Aviation law is a branch of law concerning air travel, civilian flight and some areas of admiralty law. It also encompasses various legal and business issues. This branch of law is considered to be international due to the nature of travel by air. In the United States, the FAA handles all aspects of flight. The Federal Aviation Administration oversees all civil aviation matters. The International Civil Aviation Organization oversees international aviation.
The ICAO is an agency that is part of the United Nations and it sets rules as well as mediates international matters regarding aviation. In the United States, aviation law can be governed and regulated at the federal or state level. In most instances it is governed at the federal level, but some rules at the municipal level are enforced.
History of Aviation Law
The very first aircraft laws were created in France in the late 1700s. These laws followed the first hot air balloon flights. International laws began taking shape as hot air balloons were used in wars like the Franco German war in 1870. The first Hague Conference in 1899 set a moratorium on the use of balloons in combat. This was not renewed until the Second Hague conference.
A need for a uniform international code regarding aviation arose in the early 1900s. This was at a time when rapid growth in the air travel field was spurred on following World War I. Each country that fought in the war recognized a need for international laws pertaining to flight. These laws were needed to protect pilots as well as enforce all national borders as they were at the end of the Great War.
Just before World War I, a few nations signed bilateral agreements to set the legal status of international air travel. There were a few countries that, during the war, had already prohibited flights over their land and in their airspace. This created a problem of there being several competing treaties regarding air travel over several different countries.
The Paris Convention in 1919 established its own treaty regarding aviation as well as the Ibero American Convention in 1926 did. The Havana Convention of 1928 also constructed its own rules for air travel. It became clear that uniformity had to be put into place across the globe when it came to aviation law.
Once air travel became a civilian matter, too, there arose the issue of international airline responsibilities. During the Warsaw Convention of 1929, uniformity in international air law, particularly with regard to the liability of international airlines was deemed necessary. It was not until 1945 that the International Air Transport Association was founded by 31 countries representing 57 airlines.
The International Civil Aviation Organization was also started as a unit of the United Nations which paid special attention to civil aviation. The Tokyo Convention of 1963 enacted international standards for the handling of criminal offenses on aircraft. Carrier liability provisions were updated in 1999 at the Montreal Convention and by 2001, the Cape Town Treaty created an international register for aircraft security interests and those of other large and movable assets.
In the United States, the Air Mail Act was enacted in 1925 followed by the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 which was an early form of domestic air travel regulation. The FAA or Federal Aviation Agency was not started until 1958 and it was renamed the Federal Aviation Administration in 1967 after the Department of Transportation was formed. In 1978, the air transportation industry was deregulated.
Various countries continued on their own throughout the history of aviation law to create their own national overseeing organizations. The British Commonwealth formed its own aviation regulation organization in 1920 and it also enacted its Air Navigation and Transport Act.
In Russia, the declaration over airspace was made in 1921 and they then formed the Civil Air Fleet or Aeroflot in 1932. Other communist nations followed Russia in establishing state run entities for civil air travel. Germany formed Interflug in East Germany and the People’s Republic of China form the Civil Aviation Administration.
Japan enacted its own legal regime for governing its civil aviation in 1952. This followed a short moratorium that occurred during its occupation in World War II. Early civilian air travel was only slightly regulated. It was also very competitive. The government started a regulatory system in the 1970 for three airlines, Japan Air System, All Nippon Airways and Japan Airlines. These airlines minimized competition by offering highly regulated air fares.
Japan eventually deregulated its market under pressure from the United States. The US wanted to introduce its newer carriers to the Japanese market in the 1980s. Japan also began offering packaged tour airfares that were cheaper and allowed more international travelers to visit. It also created some new airlines like Skymark and Air Do making it easier for both nations to work together to promote their individual markets.
Aviation law in the United States is not under the same federal jurisdiction as admiralty law is. However, the US Constitution does provide for how admiralty law is administered. It does not, obviously, allow for air travel. There are some laws that can be managed by the states and various municipalities but these are done in an indirect manner. For instance, a municipality can enforce some laws regarding zoning. That municipality can regulate the hours of air travel or areas where flights can be directed.
State liability laws are not above federal laws. Any defect in aviation products has to be handled by the manufacturer within federal jurisdictions.
A newer form of aviation law is space law. This branch of law is still being developed as are spacecrafts and space travel. The laws of space law govern travel outside the atmosphere. The laws are developing in a similar manner to those of aviation law.