Illegal Trading in Aviation


With aviation connecting the world through air travel which is quicker than travelling via ship, a few people and organisations use this to move goods for trade. Some of these goods are legal and are declared. Others however, are not. The movement of banned substances and other objects or living creatures is still problem in today’s society. With the ability to move trade without detection drives an industry which plagues places all over the world.


Smuggling, is the movement of trade through unauthorized routes
While Illegal Trade, is the movement of trade through custom stations.
Though they have similar means, which is the movement of prohibited goods, they have different definitions in terms of the Law3.


Smuggling may date back to when trade was first restricted. Even though there is a large association with pirates, there are cases recognised as smuggling way back in the 18th century. Throughout Britain and France where goods which should have had taxes paid on them were smuggled in order to avoid these charges. Many believe that this wasn’t a planned attack against the governments but simply a natural progression against the efforts to raise revenue for war. From this point both smuggling and attempts to catch them have evolved to better each other1.
Some of the first items to be smuggled included alcohol, chocolate and tea, today however, there is trade for humans, drugs, wildlife and other assorted goods. With aviation now connecting the world, it is easy to see why these people make take advantage of this industry. It is also good to note that while the smuggling use to be used to avoid taxes, it is now used to avoid prohibited items. The reason for these prohibitions often being a result of the items in question causing harm to people or society.

Who is to blame?

There is no really answer to this question. The most obvious people to blame are the ones who are currently trading these goods. However, there must also be blame on the users and society. The reason is simple, the users create the demand, while our society lets it happen. Without the demand, there would be no profit in the trade and it would be left alone.

Why is this important?

In aviation, one of the key elements is knowledge. The more we know the better decisions we can make. Understanding why and how these people think and work means we can better prepare and better strategize to catch these people. The thing to understand is that there will always be the supply if there is enough of a demand.
The other thing to understand is what they smuggle. This will help people recognise when these goods are being moved. When goods are moved through an airport, it is the job of customs and airport security to pick-up these movements. That way they can prosecute the offenders to deter more people getting involved. While other people such as pilots may find themselves in sticky situations which they can help prevent.

Illegal Goods

In commercial aviation there are a number of goods that are often smuggled through. The obvious ones are drugs. These are often found hidden in luggage or inside the person. (Being involved in these events is illegal and can cause the person serious harm). There are also weapons, Wildlife and other (usually small) goods. These also include people who want to move items for personal use.
There are also people who use aircraft that are ‘flown under the radar’ (to fly an aircraft avoiding detection) that smuggle larger volume of drugs, firearms, humans3.


The transport of illegal good through aviation can extend throughout most of the industry. They use a variety of methods and aircraft to smuggle the goods. There is evidence that the smugglers even use Microlights to transport drugs across international borders((bibcite Sun). The smuggler may hide these goods in other larger aircraft to try to get them across the border by mislabeling good or hiding them with other legal goods. These trends often lead to very well organised operations using the industry to felicitate their crimes5. When it comes to the commercial side of aviation the operations often involve 'mauls', these are people who are used to carry the goods, to remove any suspicion from themselves.


The trading of animals isn’t the first to come to mind when thinking of illegal trade. Most of these animals are traded for meat and folk medicine, and with many species restricted to remain in their country and rich people creating the demand for them to be their pets, there are people who will try to move these creatures past security and customs in order to be paid. Some examples of these cases can be seen here6:

Trailing illegal animal trafficking. (embedded from youtube) Rescue Center for Smuggled Animals | Global 3000. (embedded from youtube)

While other trades have little or no direct impact on the actual flights, other than explosives, wildlife can pose a threat to aircraft safety. If these animals get lose and or cause panic it can sometimes lead to accidents. For example, when a crocodile got lose and caused a wide spread panic that caused a twin-engine aircraft to become too unstable to recover killing multiple people 2.

(Image embedded from


Other than the problems that some of these traded goods have on society and people in general, the threat of smuggling has an indirect link to passenger experience. With efforts to increase the capture rate of these smugglers it often leads to added security at airports which every passenger must go through. Is this a necessary evil? The increase in technology helps to identify those who are committing crimes. However, all the checking processes take time and often lead to cargo delays because of checking for illicit goods.


Though there is little as individuals we can do to help solve this problem of smuggling (unless you want to change the world), the most we can do is educate people about the effects this trade has and try to stay one step ahead.

1. (n.d.). Britain’s Smuggling History. Retrieved from
2. Hartman K. (2010). Airplane crashes after crocodile on board escapes Retrieved from
3. Wiki. (2011). Smuggling. Retrieved from
4. Schroeder K, (2009). Drug smugglers making more use of ultralight aircraft. Retrieved from
5. The Hague, (2011). Cash, diamonds, drugs, firearms & people smuggled in small airplanes. Retrieved from
+++ Footnotes +++
6. The stories on the video are to show some of the cases that involve smuggling in aviation

Want to know more?

Recent Case
An explanation of methods used by smugglers.
A bit of Humour
Here is some of the things that people will do for money.
Some law associated with aircraft.
Airport Security

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