The Legal Liability of Air Traffic Controllers

By Chrystel Erotokritou
2012, Vol. 4 No. 02 | pg. 4/4 |

Flights to the Outer Space

Nowadays technological advances enable aircrafts to fly higher and higher, the maximum limit of aerodynamic lift being constantly challenged. Article 28 of the Chicago Convention imposes obligation on states to provide air navigation services in the airspace above their territory as previously seen. However this obligation does not extend to outer space. This question was neither dealt with by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.72 As a result, a legal black hole remains concerning the question as to who is responsible to provide air navigation services in the outer space for the hybrid category of spaceplanes (such as those used in the sub orbital region of the Earth for the conduct of space tourism activities) and who will be liable in case of accident caused by the negligent performance of these services. Furthermore it is still undefined where the airspace ends and where the outer space begins because the international legal community could not agree on a fixed boundary between these contiguous zones until now. States were only able to concur on the fact that the outer space is the common heritage of mankind and no claims can be made in respect of it.73 If an international convention on the liability of air traffic controllers is adopted in the future, this contemporary question will undeniably have to be addressed.

The Single European Sky

The member states of the joined their efforts in order to achieve a Single European Sky. Under this project, the provision of air navigation services in the airspace of the 27 European Union countries will be harmonized. Realizing that the airspace is a scarce good, airways in Europe will be used to their maximum capacity according to the needs of the aviation industry and not according to national boundaries.

Functional airspace blocks (FABs) will be created to monitor air traffic. Currently there is already one FAB into operation in the Maastricht area. The role of Eurocontrol which is now the main air navigation service provider in Europe will be diminished. Eurocontrol is in charge of the Maastricht Upper Area Control on behalf of Germany (the north-west region of the country only), the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. It provides air traffic services for flights at an altitude between 7 and 10 km. The future functional airspace blocks will follow this exceptional model of international harmonization of air traffic control.74

This ambitious project is slow to be completed because of heavy and lengthy procedures. The airspace of the European Union remains largely fragmented. However when this project will be completed, legal uncertainty will remain as to the liability of air traffic controllers. The European Union cannot effectively function if the national laws of 27 different countries, some following the common law system and some following the civil law tradition continue to apply.

Conclusions

From the proposals of the Comite International d’Experts Juridiques Aeriens (CITEJA) in the thirties to adopt a uniform set of rules governing the liability of air traffic controllers until the submission by the State of Argentina of a draft International Convention on the liability of air traffic controllers in 1983 that was never ratified, all attempts made by the international civil aviation community to resolve and clarify the complexities involving the liability of air traffic controllers failed. The main reason seems to be that States remain cautious and persistently refuse to give up part of their sovereignty. Despite the fact that aviation is a very regulated industry, the liability of air traffic controllers remains one of the most controversial and complicated issues of air law. Perhaps, in the near future a clarification of this issue can only be expected at a regional level with the elaborated efforts of the European Union either by the adoption of an entirely new legal instrument harmonizing substantive law or by the introduction of a convention unifying conflicts of laws.


References

Books

Isabella Henrietta Philepina Diedriks-Verschoor, An introduction to Air Law, Kluwer Law International, 8th Edition, 2006.

Peter Haanappel, The Law and Policy of Outer Space – A Comparative Approach, Kluwer Law International, 2003.

Jiefang Huang, Aviation Safety Through the Rule of Law: ICAO’s Mechanisms and Practises, Kluwer Law International, 2009.

Francis Schubert, La responsabilité des agences du contrôle de la circulation aérienne, Lenticularis Opfikon, (1994).

Raymond C. Speciale, Fundamentals of Aviation Law, McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Erwin Von Den Steinen, National Interest and International Aviation, Kluwer Law International, 2006.

Sofia Michaelides-Mateou, Air Law: a Practical Perspective, Sakkoulas, 2010.

Sofia Michaelides-Mateou and Andreas Mateou, Flying in the Face of Criminalization, Ashgate, 2010

Articles

P.P. Flynn, Air Traffic Control and Law, 2 Transportation Law Journal 249 (1970).

Helene Sasseville, ATC Agencies: Fault liability vs. Strict liability, 10 Annals of Air & Space Law. L.239 (1985).

International Legislation

 Annex 2 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Rules of the Air), 10th Edition, (July 2005).

Annex 11 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Air Traffic Services), 13th Edition, (July 2001).

Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation), 10th Edition (July 2010).

Convention on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface, signed at Rome on 7 October 1952, ICAO Doc 7364.

Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944, ICAO Doc 7300/8, 9th Edition, (2006).

Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, signed at Warsaw on 12 October 1929.

Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, signed at Montreal on 28 May 1999, ICAO Doc 9740.

Procedures for Air Navigation Services Air Traffic Management, ICAO Doc. 4444 ATM/501, 15th Edition, (2007).

Protocol Consolidating the Eurocontrol International Convention Relating to Co-operation for the Safety of Air Navigation of 13 December 1960, as variously amended, signed at Brussels on 23 June 1997.

Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, signed at London, Moscow and Washington on 27 January 1967. UN Doc 610 UNTS 205 / 6 ILM 386 (1967) / [1967] ATS 24.

US Legislation

FAA Flight Services Order JO 7110.65

Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b) 1944

US Cases

American Airlines v United States 418 F.2d at 197

Coateny v Beckshire 500 F.2d 290, 292 (8th Circuit 1974)

Dalehite v United States 346 V.S. 15 (1953)

Eastern Airlines v Union Trust 221 F.2d 62 Cir. (1955)

Harris v United States 333 F.Supp. 870 (N.D. Tex. 1971) at 873

Hartz v United States 387 F.2d at 873 (5th Circuit 1968)

Hopson v Gulf Oil Corp 150 Tex. 1, 237 S.W.2d 352 (1951)

lndian Towing v United States, 350 V.S. 61 (1955)

Ingham v Eastern Airlines, Inc221 F.2d 62 (D.C. Cir. 1955)

Johnson. Jensen. Christenson v. United States 6 Av. Cas. 18,111, 1960 V.S.C. Av. R. 269 (E.D. Mich. 1960)

Kelley v. U.S. No. 1:08cv31, March 20, 2009; USDC at Alexandria, Va. VLW 009-3-163, 33 pp

Marino v United States 84 F.Supp. 721 (E.D. New York 1949)

Sanbutch Properties v United States

Schuler v US868 F.2d 195 (1989)

Smerdon v United States 135 F.Supp. 929 (D.Mass. 1955)

Todd v United States 384 F.Supp. 1284, 1291; CCH Avi 17, 260; 17264.

United States v Union Trust 330 U.S. 907 (1955)

Websites

Aviation Safety Network. http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20020701-0

Eurocontrol guidance notes for pilots (Rules for VFR flight). www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/716.pdf

Eurocontrol. http://www.eurocontrol.int/articles/skills-required-be-air-traffic-controller

Indian Air Traffic Controllers. http://www.atcguild.com/tour/atctour02.asp

US Centennial of Flight Commission. http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Government_Role/Intl_Civil/POL19.htm

Master Theses

Albert Kost, Responsibility and Liability for Air Navigation Services, Leiden University, 2004.

Mohamed Abdul Kader, Air Traffic Liability, Mg Gill University, 1986

Helene Sasseville, The Liability of Air traffic control agencies, McGill University, 1985.

Other Documents

Bashkirian Airlines v. Bundes republik Deutschland, (2006) with the District Court of Konstanz Case Number 4 O 234/05 (Fourth Chamber).

Private air law LLM reader 2011-2012. Course leader: Professor Mendes de Leon, Leiden University.

The Airports Authority of (Amendment) Act, 2003 NO. 43 of 2003 [7th September, 2003], Section 33.


1.) Indian Air Traffic Controllers website http://www.atcguild.com/tour/atctour02.asp, last visited (18-10-2011).

2.) US Centennial of Flight Commission website http://www.centennialofflight.gov/essay/Government_Role/Intl_Civil/POL19.htm , last visited (17-10-2011).

3.) US Centennial of Flight Commission website http://centennialofflight.gov/essay/Government_Role/Air_traffic_control/POL15.htm , last visited (20-10-2011).

4.) Mohamed Abdul Kader, Air Traffic Liability 11-12 (Master Thesis at McGill University) (1986).

5.) Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, signed at Warsaw on 12 October 1929. Hereafter referred to as the Warsaw Convention.

6.) Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules Relating to International Carriage by Air, signed at Montreal on 28 May 1999, ICAO Doc 9740. Hereafter referred to as the Montreal Convention.

7.) Convention on Damage Caused by Foreign Aircraft to Third Parties on the Surface, signed at Rome on 7 October 1952, ICAO Doc 7364. Hereafter referred to as the Rome Convention 1952.

8.) Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed at Chicago on 7 December 1944, ICAO Doc. 7300/8, 9th Edition, (2006). Hereafter referred to as the Chicago Convention.

9.) F. Schubert, La responsabilité des agences du contrôle de la circulation aérienne 1 (1994).

10.) Annex 11 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Air Traffic Services), 13th Edition, (July 2001).

11.) Eurocontrol website http://www.eurocontrol.int/articles/skills-required-be-air-traffic-controller , last visited (15-10-2011)

12.) Annex 2 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Rules of the Air), 10th Edition, (July 2005).

13.) Procedures for Air Navigation Services Air Traffic Management, ICAO Doc. 4444 ATM/501, 15th Edition, (2007).

14.) E. V. D. Steinen, National Interest and International Aviation 71 (2006).

15.) FAA Flight Services Order JO 7110.65

16.) I.H Diedriks-Verschoor, An introduction to Air Law 198 (2006).

17.) According to ICAO Doc 4444 PANS/ATM of November 2007, TCAS is an aircraft system based on secondary surveillance radar (SSR) transponder signals, which operates independently of ground-based equipment to provide advice to the pilot on potential conflicting aircraft that are equipped with SSR transponders.

18.) Aviation Safety Network website http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20020701-0 , last visited (05-10-2011)

19.) Private Air Law reader 2011-2012 at 271. Course leader: Prof Mendes de Leon, Leiden University.

20.) Ibid at 272.

21.) See Kader, supra note 6, at 68.

22.) Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b).

23.) 346 U.S. 15 (1953)

24.) H. Sasseville, The Liability of Air traffic control agencies 66 (Master Thesis at McGill University) (1985).

25.) 330 U.S. 907 (1955)

26.) 221 F.2d 62 Cir. (1955)

27.) 350 V.S. 61 (1955)

28.) See supra note 19, at 271.

29.) See Steinen, supra note 14, at 70.

30.) A. Kost, Responsibility and Liability for Air Navigation Services 22 (Master Thesis at Leiden University) (2004)

31.) Ibid at 56-57.

32.) See Diedriks-Verschoor, supra note 16, at 190.

33.) The Airports Authority of India (Amendment) Act, 2003 NO. 43 of 2003 [7th September, 2003], Section 33.

34.) P.P. Flynn, Air Traffic Control Technology and Law, 2 Transportation Law Journal 249 (1970) at 257-258

35.) R. C. Speciale, Fundamentals of Aviation Law 7 (2006).

36.) 150 Tex. 1, 237 S.W.2d 352 (1951)

37.) 868 F.2d 195 (1989)

38.) Kelley v. U.S. (Trenga, J.) No. 1:08cv31, March 20, 2009; USDC at Alexandria, Va. VLW 009-3-163, 33 pp.

39.) See supra note 19, at 273.

40.) 221 F.2d 62 (D.C. Cir. 1955)

41.) 84 F.Supp. 721 (E.D. New York 1949)

42.) 384 F.Supp. 1284, 1291; CCH Avi 17, 260; 17264.

43.) 135 F.Supp. 929 (D.Mass. 1955)

44.) 6 Av. Cas. 18,111, 1960 V.S.C. Av. R. 269 (E.D. Mich. 1960)

45.) 333 F.Supp. 870 (N.D. Tex. 1971) at 873

46.) 418 F.2d at 197

47.) H. Sasseville, ATC Agencies: Fault liability vs. Strict liability, 10 Annals of Air & Space Law. L.239 (1985) at 245.

48.) 387 F.2d at 873 (1955)

49.) 343 F.Supp. 611, 613 (N.D.Cal. 1972)

50.) See Schubert, supra note 9, at 34-38.

51.) See Kost, supra note 30, at 47-49.

52.) Ibid at 51-55.

53.) Eurocontrol guidance notes for pilots (Rules for VFR flight). www.skybrary.aero/bookshelf/books/716.pdf , last visited (16-10-2011).

54.) 500 F.2d 290, 292 (8th Circuit 1974)

55.) See Kader, supra note 6, at 11 and 47.

56.) See Schubert, supra note 9, at 28-32.

57.) Protocol Consolidating the Eurocontrol International Convention Relating to Co-operation for the Safety of Air Navigation of 13 December 1960, as variously amended, signed at Brussels on 23 June 1997.

58.) See Schubert, supra note 9, at 118-120

59.) Ibid at 122-123.

60.) See supra note 19, at 272.

61.) Case Number 4 O 234/05 (Fourth Chamber)

62.) J. Huang, Aviation Safety Through the Rule of Law: ICAO’s mechanisms and practises 42 (2009).

63.) See Schubert, supra note 9, at 121.

64.) Sofia MichaelidesMateou, Air Law: a Practical Perspective 542-544 (2010).

65.) S. Michaelides-Mateou & A. Mateou, Flying in the Face of Criminalization 2-5 (2010).

66.) See Kader, supra note 6, at 80.

67.) Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation 1944 (Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation), 10th Edition (July 2010).

68.) Ibid at 2-5 & 101-116.

69.) See Kader, supra note 6, at 81.

70.) See Michaelides-Mateou, supra note 64, at 612-614

71.) Ibid at 618

72.) Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, signed at London, Moscow and Washington on 27 January 1967. UN Doc 610 UNTS 205 / 6 ILM 386 (1967) / [1967] ATS 24.

73.) P. Haanappel, The Law and Policy of Outer Space – A Comparative Approach, 8-23 (2003).

74.) Eurocontrol website http://www.eurocontrol.int/articles/about-muac

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