Karen Clayton, IATA’s General Counsel, says the Legal Symposium will explore areas of vital business support as the industry moves on from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal and regulatory affairs are sometimes seen as dry subjects but in fact they are vital facilitators for business.

That is why the Legal Symposium will be such an exciting and important event. We will be talking about real business issues that affect airlines and the industry as a whole. Moreover, it is the first Legal Symposium for almost three years and having lawyers from across the industry and world get together to share their expertise and experience in person is sure to furnish plenty of insights.

We have to talk about the COVID pandemic because there are a lot of lessons to be learned from it. Airlines had to redefine business fundamentals and rationalize operations, literally overnight in some instances. This is a connected world, and aviation not only makes a positive contribution to jobs and GDP but also is an important social and cultural glue.

The impact of the pandemic on the industry was unprecedented and we will discuss the legal and regulatory issues that were under the spotlight and how we continue to tackle them in the post pandemic world.  This is particularly important as we see regulators in different parts of the world poised with a program of regulatory activity to fill the perceived gaps highlighted during the pandemic.

Many governments are pushing their own individual solutions and testing the boundaries of the international regulatory frameworks we have in aviation. This isn’t necessarily new but the post-COVID pace and emphasis in some areas is. If aviation is going to connect the world, and do so effectively and sustainably, a consistent rule book is critical.

Aviation is uniquely sensitive to patchwork regulation where too much energy is spent in navigating differences. Consistency of rules was recognized in 1944 when the Chicago Convention was drafted. This approach is no less relevant today, not least with respect to data and consumer protection regulations and the drive for sustainability.

A very interesting angle that we will be discussing in relation to sustainability is how competition law can be a facilitator for it, including how individual and collective sustainability initiatives can find recognition under national law and across jurisdictions. We need to be actively working to ensure that competition law and the application of it reflects the need for the industry to decarbonize, in line with our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Are we able to form the right partnerships to boost the production and uptake of sustainable aviation fuel, for example?

After all, partnerships are essential. Not just between airlines and other aviation stakeholders but between airlines and governments and even between governments. This will benefit economies, consumers, and the climate.

There are many more regulations on the horizon on which we need to establish a position so we can advocate for or against. So, the Legal Symposium will also cover such high-profile topics as cargo, environment, social, and governance (ESG), and liability.

Cargo has been one of the shining stars of the past two years but continues to have its own legal and regulatory challenges. ESG, meanwhile, is skipping up the boardroom agenda and airlines must manage the varied expectations of customers, regulators, and investors. As for liability, it is a constant issue and continues to represent a danger to airlines’ bottom line as courts have been creative in some regions with their interpretation of the treaties and key concepts.

One final aspect of the Legal Symposium I would like to mention is the Constance O’Keefe Writing Award. Constance was a former IATA General Counsel who passed early in life. This award, in her honor, is given to a university student who has written a considered piece on a legal subject facing the airline industry. We at IATA are very proud of this award, for its recognition of the inimitable colleague it remembers and of the next generation of aviation lawyers to come.

The Legal Symposium will confirm that a closed, fragmented world just doesn’t work. The COVID pandemic proved that. Aviation needs to thrive. It cannot expend energy in navigating regulatory and legal differences when it should be focusing on providing sustainable global economic growth and connecting business and people.


Credit | Billion-Photos / Shutterstock