Air & Space Law: global concern, global perspective needed for new rules

By Pascal Zamprelli

With new issues like climate change and private space flight to contend with, air and space legal experts say the aviation industry is going to need laws and regulations that reflect international consensus and not a state-based patchwork of rules if it is to remain manageable.

How to deal with the effects of climate change on the civil aviation industry was just one of a variety of critical issues discussed and debated on Sept. 18 and 19 during Air and Space Law: A Global Perspective. Over 200 participants from 35 countries working in government, industry, academic, legal and financial sectors turned out for the event at the Marriott Chateau Champlain Hotel in Montreal, the third conference co-hosted by the American Bar Association and the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL).

“Anyone who thinks the aviation industry will continue to enjoy the pass it got under Kyoto is fooling themselves,” said aviation lawyer Jeffrey Shane during his keynote speech at the conference.

Shane’s message was echoed in a variety of ways throughout the conference: embrace globalization or face “a perennially sick airline industry.”

Prof. Paul Dempsey, Director of the IASL, concurs: “Climate change is a global issue and needs to be resolved in some way globally.” This idea holds for just about every other contemporary issue facing aviation, such as passenger rights, and safety and security.

That global problems require global solutions is rarely more evident than in an industry like  this one, where crossing borders is more than a political or legal metaphor – it is something that industry members do countless times a day.

Some issues, such as regulating the proliferation of private space flights, are even more problematic, as they demand harmonizing not only laws between nations, but also reconciling the laws that govern airspace with those that govern outer space.

“You have two diametrically  opposed legal regimes,” Dempsey explained. “The air law regime provides for complete and exclusive sovereignty over airspace, so you may not enter the airspace of another state

without their permission. Outer space has the opposite provision – no state may exercise sovereignty or jurisdiction over outer space or any celestial object. So where does airspace end and outer space begin? The world community has never resolved that.”

Achieving consensus on issues like these is no easy task, however, and requires international cooperation. Therein lies the purpose of gatherings such as this one and others organized by the IASL, whose mission statement notes that “By its very nature, aviation shrinks the planet, integrating disparate cultures and economies, and facilitating a peaceful, prosperous and cooperative global order.”