Today I learned about a Twitter account that tweets arrivals and departures to/from Geneva, of aircraft used by dictators.

I was wondering if an individual air traffic controller could refuse to give service to a given aircraft based on moral grounds, without legal consequences?

Maybe I'm a pacifist controller and I prefer to not handle a military aircraft sending troops somewhere. Or I don't like dictatorships and I don't want them in the country/airport where I operate.

Is there any legislation that could protect such objectors? To narrow a little the question, let's stick with Geneva in particular, or Europe in general.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure if you would consider this an equivalency, but in the early 1990s during the buildup to the first Gulf war, Switzerland withheld overflight rights for U.S. military charters. As I remember, we had to avoid a few other states as well at first, but I can't remember which. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ Interesting question, although I'm not sure that this is really specific to aviation. There's an employment law aspect (in what circumstances can employees legally refuse to do their job?) and a moral/philosophical one (is it better for society to provide the service for safety reasons, even if it enables undesirable outcomes?) and probably many others, but aviation seems to be a small part of this, IMO. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Pondlife I was not sure whether to post it or not, finally I decided to do it. If it gets moved to other SO site, I won't object :) $\endgroup$
    – orique
    Oct 14, 2016 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ "I was wondering if an ATCo could refuse to give service to a given aircraft based on moral grounds, without legal consequences?" Yes. They can resign. Unless, of course, they're actually in a dictatorship that doesn't allow that. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Oct 14, 2016 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ The way this CAN work is the state does not give the jet or the passenger diplomatic clearance to enter the country or the airspace. But it isn't an ATC function to keep dictators etc out of the country on their own. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Oct 14, 2016 at 20:52

1 Answer 1



The purpose of air traffic control is to prevent collisions and expidite and maintain an orderly flow of air traffic. An air traffic controller has no say in who gets to fly and who doesn't. Refusing a certain flight would be something that needs to be done at a political level, and certainly far away from an operational level.

Also remember that, except in special cases, air traffic controllers have no way of knowing who is onboard a certain aircraft. Essentially, all we see is a flight ID and a route. Air traffic controllers are not in contact with passenger lists at any time.

Furthermore, air traffic controllers do not have any physical way of preventing flights from taking place. See this slightly related answer: Can a pilot take off at his own discretion?


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