Aviation is a highly complex business: there are hundreds of airlines spanning the globe operating within stringent safety requirements set by international bodies and implemented locally by national and regional aviation authorities, covering areas as diverse as engineer and pilot licensing, aircraft certification and maintenance, lighting requirements of runways and using emerging technologies to continually improve safety.
The industry can be justifiably proud of its safety record, although standards do vary around the world. However, when an accident does occur, who is responsible - the airline or aircraft manufacturer and whose insurer will pay the damages?
Buying aircraft doesn’t come cheap either, especially as aircraft become increasingly sophisticated and new technology is developed, with complex legal contracts between airlines, manufacturers and finanical institutions required. These may result in, for example, a commercial dispute between an airline and aircraft manufacturer due to a delayed delivery of new planes.
Environmental concerns and the emphasis on green measures to control aviation’s carbon emissions have introduced a new arena for negotiation, such as emissions trading. Meanwhile, the airline market has undergone huge change in recent years as competition has multiplied with the low-cost revolution meaning that some airlines have become ripe for takeover.
Finally, the emerging ‘space tourism’ industry takes safety, insurance, regulation and liability issues to sub-orbital levels. With space tourism technology developing more rapidly than anyone had anticipated, the new ‘Outer Space Treaty’ being developed to provide a regulatory framework to space tourism which needs to grow quickly
All this means good business for the industry’s legal specialists who are a vital cog in the wheel that keeps the industry flying!
Some of the key legal areas relating to aviation include:
- Liability work
- Commercial litigation
- Asset financing
- Mergers and acquisitions
- International partnerships in aircraft manufacturing and design
There are a variety of organisations in which legal practitioners work within the aerospace community:
- Specialist divisions of law firms
- Regulatory authorities such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the European Aviation Safety Authority (EASA)
- Legal departments of airlines, aerospace manufacturers and other operators
- Government departments
- Specialist aviation divisions of insurance companies and financial institutions
Air Law route
Laywers follow the normal LLB qualification route and experience requirements and then enter the sector as a trainee. Although getting direct aviation experience is ideal, any normal student experience within a law firm will help. Some specialist commercial aviation legal firms offer formal summer placement scheme for students; these are usually very competitive with recruitment taking place one year in advance. Some firms also offer informal work experience from time to time.
You could also look at getting experience within the legal departments of aerospace and aviation companies such as manufacturers and airlines, or within one of the regulatory authorities such as the CAA.