Legal symposium seeks business solutions

Karen Clayton, IATA’s general counsel, said the legal symposium will explore areas of vital business support as the industry emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legal and regulatory affairs are sometimes perceived as dry subjects but in reality they are vital business enablers.

This is why the Legal Symposium will be an exciting and important event. We’ll talk about real business issues that affect airlines and the industry as a whole. Additionally, this is the first legal symposium in nearly three years and the fact that lawyers from across industries and around the world come together to share their expertise and experience in person is sure to provide plenty of insight.

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

The impact of the pandemic on the industry has been unprecedented and we will discuss the legal and regulatory issues that have been in the spotlight and how we continue to address them in the post-pandemic world. This is particularly important as we see regulators in different parts of the world ready to put in place an agenda of regulatory activity to address the perceived gaps highlighted during the pandemic.

Many governments are pushing their own individual solutions and testing the limits of the international regulatory frameworks we have in aviation. It’s not necessarily new, but the post-COVID pace and emphasis in certain areas is. If aviation is to connect the world, and to do so effectively and sustainably, consistent regulation is essential.

Aviation is particularly susceptible to disparate regulation where too much energy is spent navigating the differences. The consistency of the rules was recognized in 1944 when the Chicago Convention was drafted. This approach is no less relevant today, especially with regard to data and consumer protection regulations and the desire for sustainability.

A very interesting angle that we will discuss in relation to sustainability is how competition law can be an enabler for it, including how individual and collective sustainability initiatives can be recognized in national law and in all jurisdictions. We must work actively to ensure that competition law and its enforcement reflect the need for industry to decarbonise, in line with our goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Are we able to train the right partnerships to drive the production and adoption of sustainable aviation fuel, for example?

After all, partnerships are essential. Not just between airlines and other aviation players, 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 that we need to establish a position on so that we can argue for or against. Thus, the legal symposium will also cover such important topics as freight, environment, social and governance (ESG) and liability.

Freight 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 the boardroom agenda and airlines have to manage the varied expectations of customers, regulators and investors. As for liability, it is an ongoing issue and continues to pose a hazard to airline bottom lines, as the courts have been creative in some areas with their interpretation of treaties and key concepts.

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

The Legal Symposium will confirm that a closed and fragmented world simply does not work. The COVID pandemic has proven that. Aviation must thrive. It cannot expend energy navigating regulatory and legal differences when it should be focused on delivering sustainable global economic growth and connecting businesses and people.

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