"What do aviation lawyers do?"

What is aviation law?

Aviation law is the law that regulates all issues to do with flight and air travel

Due to the nature of aviation law, it is considered an 'international law' matter and can overlap with 'admiralty law' (shipping law).  

In the U.K, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is responsible for the regulation of aviation safety.


 The CAA:

  • come up with the national policies for the use of airspace; 

  • regulate the economy of Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted airports;

  • deal with the licensing and financial fitness of airlines; and

  • manage the ATOL financial protection scheme for holidaymakers. 

The aviation sector is a crucial part of the UK economy. In 2018 it had an estimated turnover of more than £28 billion with a gross value added of over £9.8 billion (see the ONS) and the sector employed 230,000 workers in 2017! U.K airports are an essential infrastructure that allows this important market to exist. 

U.K airport infrastructure supports various types of aviation such as:

  • commercial aviation - commercial airports are mostly privately owned or part of a public/private ownership model and are licensed and regulated by the CAA

  • military aviation - military aerodromes are state owned and governed by the Military Aviation Authority

  • general aviation - this is everything other than commercial airline activity so this would include private jets, helicopters, paragliders etc. 

Aviation law in practice...

Aviation law is covered in a range of primary and secondary legislation - there isn't a single act that has all the relevant provisions but key legislation includes the Civil Aviation Act of 1982, 2006 and 2012 and the Air Navigation Order 2016 (SI 2016/765). 


Airports are regulated in the following areas:

  • Licensing

  • Planning and development

  • Economic regulation and regulation of airport charges

Common legal issues in aviation:

The following legal issues will crop up in the aviation industry:

Commercial matters 

  • data protection 

  • technology and licensing

  • consumer protection

  • employment

  • commercial agreements

Competition law

  • the CAA has concurrent competition powers with CMA in relation to airport operation services and the supply of air traffic services



  • property and planning lawyers that specialise in the airport/aviation industry will need to deal with planning legislation and environmental laws 



  • typical corporate matters that arise in the aviation industry include project finance transactions (loans and other forms of funding for airports), slot transactions (slots are a bundle of rights that allow airlines to take off, land and use other infrastructure in an airport) and acquisitions (purchasing/acquiring airports) and disposals (selling airports).  

Typical tasks of an Aviation Lawyer...

 Contentious matters:

Contentious aviation work is usually centred around insurance claims, air accidents and shareholder/partner disputes . 

Insurance claims: 

  •  public liability insurance - this type of insurance covers anything that an aircraft does to a third party such as to property, cars etc. 

  • passenger liability insurance - covers passengers riding the aircraft for any accidents where they are injured or killed 

  • ground risk hull insurance not in motion - coverage for damage caused when aircraft is on the ground and not in motion

  • ground risk hull insurance in motion - this is where the aircraft is on the ground but is moving but not taking off or landing i.e. 'taxiing'

Air accidents:

Air accidents are accidents that occur from any time a person boards the aircraft with the intention of flight until all those on the aircraft disembark. The accident must result in:

  • a person being fatally or seriously injured,

  • the aircraft sustains significant damage or structural failure,

  • or the aircraft goes missing or becomes completely inaccessible 

There are also 'aviation incidents' which are an occurrence, other than an accident, associated with the operation of an aircraft that affects or could affect the safety of operation. 

A hull loss is where an aircraft is destroyed, damaged beyond repair, lost or becomes completely inaccessible. 

Cargo claims is a legal demand  by a shipper or consignee against a carrier in respect of damage to a shipment or loss of a shipment. 

Shareholder and partner disputes

Airlines such as EasyJet and British Airways are public limited companies and by their very nature have shareholders (i.e. people or companies that own a percentage of the airline). It is common in the event of multiple shareholders/owners that disputes can arise and because of the type of company these airlines are, they'll want specialist aviation lawyers with sector specific knowledge to deal with resolving/mediating their disputes). 

Non-contentious matters

Buying, selling, paying for and maintaining aircrafts 

The most common form of agreements that require drafting and negotiating include:

  • aircraft purchase and sale agreements

  • aircraft finance, operation and leasing agreements

  • aircraft and engine finance agreements (this is basically a loan/funding agreement)

  • engine purchase, exchange and leasing agreements

  • aircraft leasing and operating agreements

  • aircraft management agreements 

  • aircraft and engine maintenance agreements

  • drafting consignment arrangements, teardown and part-out agreements

Air transport regulation and commercial

The regulation of aviation is quite broad and comprises the following legal issues:

  • the regulation of air transport, airports, airport slots, ground handling and package holidays. 

  • competition law

  • state aid

  • air carrier licensing

  • crew licensing and ratings

  • air travel organisers licensing

  • code sharing

  • franchising

  • charter and wet lease agreements

  • joint service agreements 

  • mergers and acquisitions

  • restructuring and insolvency (in the event an airline or other aviation related company gets into financial difficulty)

  • general corporate law including collaboration and other joint venture arrangements (this is where two airlines or other aviation related organisations will enter into an agreement to do something together i.e. a joint project). 

  • airline fraud (airline fraud is quite common - this is usually around fraudulent online purchases of flight tickets!)

  • Offences under the Air Navigation Order and other offences 

So do we just act for airports?

Being a lawyer in the aviation industry means you'll get to work with a lot more than just 'airports'! Clients include: 

  • Airlines

  • Airports

  • Ground Handlers

  • MROs

  • Aircraft and Engine Manufacturers

  • Leasing companies

  • Banks and Financiers 

  • Aviation Insurers and Brokers 

  • Tour Operators

  • Travel Agents

  • Trade Associations