Airport Law: An Evolving Specialty

Approximately 140 attorneys met in Buenos Aires from September 17-19, where they assembled for the annual Worldwide Airport Lawyers Association (“WALA”) conference. In-house lawyers representing their airport operators, as well as attorneys from law firms engaged in airport law, converged on Argentina from some 40 countries around the world – from Kenya, to Turkey, to The Netherlands, to Singapore, to Germany, and of course most countries in South America.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, “the world’s busiest airport,” of course was represented: two attorneys from the City of Atlanta, Department of Law, Aviation Group – Kimberly Patrick and Cheryl Treadwell – gave a well-received program titled “Loaded Luggage: An Overview of Changing Weapons Laws at Atlanta’s Airport.” This topic generated a significant amount of interest, given the unique legal environment with respect to carriage of firearms in the U.S.. John Parkerson, an international attorney formerly of Delta Air Lines’ Law Department and now with Hall Booth Smith, P.C., moderated their program. At last year’s WALA conference in Montreal, Parkerson presented a program on “Sustainable Airport Area Development.” AIG Vice President-Claims Manager-Aerospace, Garrett Pendleton, also from Atlanta; who spoke about “Airport Risk: Management and Insurance”; further enhanced Atlanta’s WALA program prominence.

WALA began in 2007 in Prague, Czech Republic; and the first conference occurred soon after in Spain. It was a response to the growing realization that air/aeronautical law in each of the participants’ countries was insufficiently developed and thus inadequate to face the new realities of airport service and operation. These realities required lawyers with specialized legal knowledge. This realization was a reflection of changing roles of airports from merely essential infrastructures (and attendant environmental and monetary costs) that provide services to airlines, into something much more: service providers for an array of passengers, visitors, workers, contractors, and communities who pass through airports for a variety of reasons and who view airports increasingly as places to meet, greet, eat, drink, and even shop. New airport roles, coupled with a host of issues that are reflective of present times, brought new challenges such as the need for enhanced security measures, as well as increased attention to safety and environmental concerns.

Many initial WALA participants consequently saw a need to create a worldwide forum as a meeting place where airport lawyers and others who might be interested could develop, share and debate relevant issues in their fields of law. Since that time, leaders like WALA President Diego Gonzalez, Legal Affairs Manager at Aeropuertos Argentina 2000; and Ilona Crommentuin, Legal Counsel of Schiphol Group (Amsterdam airport); working with a Board of highly qualified global legal specialists; have helped to focus attention on airport law as a distinct legal specialty. This year’s conference topics in Buenos Aires illustrated the kinds of topics that someday might be listed in an “airport law” textbook table of contents. Some examples of this year’s topics were: “Airport Pricing and Acquisition”, “Methods for Resolving Disputes During the Execution of Airport Infrastructure Projects”, “An Airport Law Toolbox,” “Airport Law and Security”, “Fuel Consortiums and Fueling Companies”, “Doing Business as an Airport Authority in Africa”, “Airport Operator Liability”, “Airport Law and Insurance”, and many others. Airports, airlines, customers’ needs, and the needs and reactions of the communities on which airports have an impact is the overlay against which airport law evolves. This is the business environment with which today’s airport lawyer must be familiar in order to have a successful practice as an airport law specialist.

By: John E. Parkerson,Jr., Esq.

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