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What Is Aviation Law?

Aviation law covers the legal aspects of air transport, the use and regulation of airspace, and air travel business, including airport operations. Legal issues range from aircraft accidents to noise complaints. Because air travel is primarily interstate, federal law regulates most of the aviation industry.

States have no control over ticket prices, routes, or airline services. The FAA controls those areas. States may pass laws that do not hinder federal laws, such as zoning laws for noise control and hours of operation at state airports.

This article reviews the reasons for hiring an aviation law attorney.

Aviation Law Legal Issues

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) handles most aviation regulations and standards. The FAA enacts rules on interstate navigation, air traffic control, and pilot licensing. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates aviation accidents and makes recommendations to the FAA. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) handles airline and airport security.

State laws may not preempt federal laws. A state law that makes it overly difficult or impossible to obey an FAA statute will get preempted by the federal law in court. States may regulate outside the areas of aviation safety and efficiency. For instance, a state may not prevent airlines from using certain landing and takeoff routes for an airport. The state can limit when planes can take off for noise control or environmental reasons.

Other areas states can regulate include:

  • Airports and airport parking. Airport operations may be subject to oversight by TSA or other branches of Homeland Security.
  • Airspace to 400 feet. The FAA has a "carve-out" for recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) under 55 pounds, or drones, in its regulations. Drone operators can fly these craft below 400 feet without needing FAA licenses. States and municipalities may restrict drone use below 400 feet for specific reasons.
  • Leasing hangar space and private airfields. State departments of transportation oversee private aerospace facilities to a greater or lesser degree. Airplane accidents in these locations are the responsibility of the aircraft owners unless there is serious injury or death.

Cases involving aviation-related issues, such as personal injury claims from an airport garage traffic accident, may still need an aviation attorney. The interrelation of federal and state laws needs an experienced litigator to untangle correctly.

Terms To Know

  • Common Carrier: A business or agency that transports public persons, goods, or messages
  • Air Traffic Control: The communications system that oversees and directs airplane traffic at airports
  • Homeland SecurityThe agency tasked with border security, including oversight of airports and airlines, in the wake of the 9/11 attack.

For more legal definitions, visit the FindLaw Legal Dictionary.

Considerations When Hiring an Aviation Lawyer

Large airlines have teams of aviation accident lawyers to handle personal injury claims after major accidents. In-house attorneys also represent their clients in product liability cases (such as the Boeing 777 MAX cases). They may challenge changes in federal aviation regulations.

Smaller air carriers and private pilots may need legal advice when facing personal claims. Airplane crashes may not lead to injury or wrongful death to result in litigation. Small businesses need legal representation for lost cargo or breach of contract cases.

Aviation litigation can include third-party vendors. If your small airline served a snack that caused five of your customers' food poisoning, you must join the food company in the lawsuit. Aviation crashes often involve aviation manufacturers and product liability due to broken parts.

Contact an aviation lawyer to explore your legal options if you or your business is facing an aviation legal issue.

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