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International Aviation Law

Aviation law is the law of aircraft, including their passengers and cargo.  The law governs their transit above states and other governed territory.  The purpose and need for aviation law occurs from the globalization and expanding nature of human interaction.  Generally, aviation laws are rules of conduct derived from a recognized concept of universal justice.

Aviation law is considered international law in many cases due to the nature of air travel.  Airplanes flying through international skies are subject to international aviation law.  They are in no way the equivalent of instrumentalities of commerce which travel exclusively between the various states of one country[i].

Because of the international nature of air travel, countries have entered into conventions to standardize the laws regulating airlines.  The conventions also set forth the rights of passengers.

The important conventions on public international air laws are:

  • Convention Relating to the Regulation of Aerial Navigation (Paris Convention).
  • Convention on International Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention).
  • International Air Services Transit Agreement.
  • International Air Transport Agreement.
  • Multilateral Agreement on Commercial Rights of Non-Scheduled Air Services among the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
  • Memorandum of Understanding Between the Governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand on Expansion of Air Linkages (IMT-GT).
  • Thai Draft Air Services Agreement.
  • Agreement between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the United States of America.
  • U.S. Model Air Transport Agreement.
  • General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.
  • General Agreement on Trade in Services.
  • Agreement on Trade in Civil Aircraft.


An International Commission for Aerial Navigation (ICAN) was created under the Paris Convention (1919).  Additionally, the Warsaw Convention limits the liability of airlines for accidents on international flights except when the airline engaged in willful misconduct.  The Montreal Convention amended the important provisions of the Warsaw Convention’s articles regulating compensation for the victims of air disasters.

In 1937, an Inter-American Technical Aviation Conference decided on the creation of a Permanent American Aeronautical Commission (CAPA).  The ICAN and CAPA were superseded by the establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 1947 under the 1944 Chicago Convention.

International aviation laws are enforced through a set of institutions.  Among them, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a branch of the United Nations, provides general rules and mediates international concerns to an extent regarding aviation law.   The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is an agency responsible for the certification of new aircrafts.  The EASA has specific regulatory and executive tasks in the field of civilian aviation safety.  The JAA (Joint Aviation Authorities) represents the civil aviation regulatory authorities of a number of European states who have agreed to cooperate in developing and implementing common safety regulatory standards and procedures.  The IAT Association is an international industry trade group of airlines.

International policies are introduced through open skies agreements to liberalize the rules for international aviation markets, minimize government intervention, and to adjust the rules under which military and other state-based flights are permitted.

[i] Scandinavian Airlines System, Inc. v. County of Los Angeles, 56 Cal. 2d 11 (Cal. 1961).

Inside International Aviation Law