1.”Air law” or “aviation law”
The two terms are used virtually interchangeably. You could say that “air law” is misleading because this branch of the law actually deals with aviation activities.
2. History of aviation law
At the origin of aviation, at the beginning of the 20th century, this branch of the law mainly dealt with the questions of where aircraft could take off and land and whether they could fly over certain territories or borders. At that time, an “aerodrome” was just an area where the new flying machines could be moved. There were also take off and landing fields. The present term “aerodrome”, which includes airports, airfields and gliding fields as well as fields for microlight aircraft and takeoff and landing sites for paragliders and hang-gliders, is not used as precisely as in the pioneering days of aviation.
Following the development of powered flight, aviation was mainly concerned with issues of air sovereignty as well as entry and overflight rights and, soon afterwards, traffic rights. The first issues connected with liabilities to passengers arose with the possibility of offering genuine transport services. The Warsaw Convention of 1929 still determines the basic structures of liability law for passenger flights (liability of air carriers).
In 1944, shortly before the end of the Second World War, representatives of 52 countries met at the Chicago Convention, mainly on the initiative of the UK, and laid the legal foundations for what is now the most important aviation regulation – the ICAO Convention or “Convention on International Civil Aviation”.
The preamble to the Convention not only reflects the visionary and enthusiastic ideas of aviators but also the desire for peace and international understanding: “WHEREAS the future development of international civil aviation can greatly help to create and preserve friendship and understanding among the nations and peoples of the world, yet its abuse can become a threat to the general security; and WHEREAS it is desirable to avoid friction and to promote that co-operation between nations and peoples upon which the peace of the world depends; THEREFORE, the undersigned governments having agreed on certain principles and arrangements in order that international civil aviation may be developed in a safe and orderly manner and that international air transport services may be established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically; have accordingly concluded this Convention to that end.”
In addition to the definition of “sovereignty” already laid down in the 1919 Paris Convention, as well as customs and entry regulations, the Convention, which now has a total of 18 annexes, covers almost all areas of aviation where regulations are required – you could say that it is table of contents of aviation law.
– Communication and Navigation (COM & NAV – ICAO Annexes 10 and 11)
– Aerodromes (ADR – ICAO Annex 14)
– Rules of the Air and Air Traffic Control (RAC – ICAO Annex 2)
– Personnel Licensing (ICAO Annex 1)
– Safety, Airworthiness (ICAO Annex 8)
– Registration/Registration Marks (ICAO Annex7)
– Meteorological Service for International Air Navigation (MET, ICAO Annex 3)
– Operation of Aircraft (OPS, ICAO Annex 6)
– Aeronautical Charts (ICAO Annex 4)
– Search and Rescue and Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation (ICAO Annexes 12 and 13)
– Other matters concerning the security (Security – ICAO Annex 17), orderliness and performance of aviation.
3. Areas of aviation law
Only very few aviation topics are originally and exclusively part of the area of aviation law. Areas of law which are to be assigned to international law under the ICAO Convention and the national implementation of these regulations form the area of public aviation law (including administrative law and safety law). Since the comprehensive delegation of legislative powers to the EU, these provisions also form part of the comprehensive body of European law.
Aviation law also concerns other areas of the law: criminal and administrative offences in aviation are to some extent covered by general criminal law in the German Criminal Code (StGB), with procedures laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure (StPO). Special penal provisions are also included in other laws such as Sections 58 ff. of the German Aviation Act (LuftVG).
Finally, aviation law concerns private agreements between persons and organizations. Civil law, including the law of purchase contracts, warranty law, compensation law, insurance law, labour law, competition law, commercial law and many other areas, is the most complex field of aviation law.
In addition to aviation-specific regulations on aspects such as liability insurance, the possession, pledging and ownership of aircraft, working time regulations (flying times and rest times, with connections to public law), aircraft, aviation personnel and aviation organizations are also subject to the general provisions of civil law.
4. Special qualifications of aviation lawyers
In addition to the special features of aviation law, lawyers working for clients on air law matters need systematic specialist and technical knowledge of the field of aviation.
As this is not a legal “mass market” like general road traffic law, family law or labour law, only very few lawyers have specialized in aviation law and been able to assert themselves in this field.
Frequently, it is necessary to consider potential conflicts of interest before accepting instructions from a client. The people and organizations participating in aviation form an astonishingly well-networked community.