Aviation law is the branch of transportation law that covers nearly all aspects of air travel, aircraft and airport operation, maintenance of aviation facilities, and related legal and business matters. It regulates everything from buying an air ticket to traveling in national and international space. Aviation law includes law governing the activities of aircraft operators, pilots, manufacturers, air traffic controllers, and mechanics.
International air travel involves air navigation between nations. Because of the nature of air travel, aviation law is sometimes considered a matter of international law. There are several international organizations that have been established and several treaties that have been signed to regulate international air navigation. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that codifies rules and regulations relating to international air navigation. The ICAO also adopts standards and recommends policies to ensure safety and orderly growth of international air navigation. International treaties such as the Warsaw Convention and the Montreal Agreement regulate the liability of an international air carrier for personal injury to/death of a passenger, damages to a passenger’s baggage, or to air cargo.
In the U.S., there are federal and state level agencies that regulate aviation. But aviation law opeartes mainly at the federal level. Although the states have the power to enact their own rules in some areas of air travel, the major bodies governing aviation are federal. However, to ensure its safety, states may possess the jurisdiction to control the airspace above their territories[i].
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is the U.S. federal agency that regulates most matters related to aviation. The FAA is an administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation[ii]. It has the authority to administer and regulate all matters relating to civil aviation in the U.S. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is another important player in the field of aviation. It has the responsibility of investigating and reporting aviation accidents. The NTSB’s purpose is to find out the cause of accidents and devise measures to prevent future accidents.
Aviation is subject to many federal regulations. The Air Commerce Act of 1926 that provided for the certification and registration of aircraft employed in interstate or foreign commerce is the first federal enactment concerning aviation. This statute was followed by subsequent acts such as the Civil Aeronautics Act, Federal Aviation Act, Airport and Airway Development Act of 1970, and the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
[i] Erickson v. King, 218 Minn. 98 (Minn. 1944).
[ii] 49 USCS § 106.