Aviation law is the area of law that governs air travel, aircraft and airport operations, air traffic control safety, pilot licensing requirements, maintenance of aviation facilities, and other matters concerning flight. Space law and admiralty law are closely related to aviation law and sometimes will overlap. Federal regulation is the primary source of authority in aviation law. However, states and municipalities have traditionally carved out a small piece of regulatory authority in aviation matters concerning zoning and usage. For instance, state and municipal law may require airports to be a certain distance from residential areas or restrict airport usage to certain times of the day.
International law is also a source of authority in aviation matters. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is an agency of the United Nations that mediates international disputes over aviation. The ICAO also recommends practices for international air navigation, facilitation of border crossing procedures, flight inspection, and prevention of unlawful interference.
Air traffic laws fall under the purview of aviation law. Air traffic controllers are expected to understand and abide by the applicable air traffic laws. Air traffic controllers are highly specialized personnel who undergo extensive physical and psychological testing mandated by the FAA prior to certification. Due to the demanding nature of the job, air traffic controllers must possess exceptional mental acuity.
There is a wealth of different types of cases in the realm of aviation law. Aviation law firms will take cases where aviation law is involved, but where other legal issues may be involved as well. For instance, an aviation lawyer may encounter a case where a supersonic aircraft manufacturer needs counseling on FAA and ICAO noise and certification requirements. Airline carriers may also contract the services of attorneys specializing in aviation law to handle antitrust damages claims resulting from an international cause of action.
The rise of the commercial UAS (unmanned aerial system) industry – think of Amazon using drones to deliver packages – has created a need for new aviation laws to regulate this field and its applications. Aviation lawyers are now seeing more and more cases where drones are involved, such as helping media organizations obtain FAA waivers to fly UASs over people for reporting and news gathering purposes.
On a more somber note, many high-profile cases in aviation law involve tragedy in the skies and significant loss of life. Numerous legal implications result from an airline crash. Pilot error is a major cause of air accidents. When pilot error is ruled to be the cause of an air accident, pilots can be held criminally and/or civilly liable. International precedent has shown that air traffic controllers may also be legally liable if their negligence was a contributing factor to an airline crash.
Lawyers who specialize in aviation law assist a variety of different clients depending on their needs. Both public agencies and private sector clients retain the services of aviation lawyers. Aviation lawyers are often also pilots or engineers and this technical background gives them unique insight into unraveling complex flight engineering questions in simulating a plane crash or determining pilot error. Aviation lawyers may advise on pending aviation safety legislation or assist a client to ensure their aircraft are in compliance with all applicable regulations. Attorneys who work in aviation law advocate for aviation accident victims and may also be instrumental in legislation surrounding better aircraft design.
For those involved in an aviation accident, an aviation lawyer can advocate on your behalf to ensure proper and just compensation for the damages you’ve sustained. On the other hand, aviation lawyers can also help you understand your rights if your flight was canceled or delayed or stranded on the tarmac for an unreasonable amount of time. A business owner in the aviation industry will want to consult with an aviation lawyer on compliance issues, regulatory requirements, and even design specifications as they relate to legal liability. On legal issues related to aviation, an aviation lawyer can be a great ally to have on your side.
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