Aviation Law: Meaning & Applicability

Aviation law has a significant role to play in a vast country such as India, with major industrial and commercial centers spread all over the country. It offers savings in time that cannot be matched by surface transport over long distances. This advantage of speed certainly helps in cutting down the transit time in the hinterland movement of export cargo. The share of airborne trade in total foreign trade with India during the years 1998–99 was about 32%. In India, the Ministry of Civil Aviation has been entrusted with the responsibility of "developing the air services and the related infrastructure." Aviation Law creates an ecosystem that can propel domestic and international ticketing, boost regional connectivity, and simultaneously ensure safety. The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) has released the Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP 2016) that ensures these aspects.

What is the Meaning of Aviation Law?

The area of law that deals with flying, air travel, and the related legal and commercial issues is known as aviation law. Due to the nature of air travel, some of its areas of concern overlap with admiralty law, and aviation law is frequently regarded as an issue of international law.

In accordance with Entry 29, List I, VII Schedule, and Article 246 of the Indian Constitution, the Parliament of India has the only authority to enact laws pertaining to "airports; aircraft and air navigation; provision of aerodromes; control and organization of air traffic and of aerodromes." This centralized control over the aviation industry ensures that airports are set up in suitable locations that have the ability to deal with passenger and cargo inflow and support airport projects. State governments can approach the Central Government to acquire property for conducting aviation activities.

While the overall legislative framework for the sector is provided primarily by the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, and the Aircraft Act, 1934, the Ministry of Civil Aviation identifies key issues facing the aviation industry and provides policy to address the same.

Aim of Aviation Law

The basic aims of aviation law are as follows −

  • It  provide an environment for the harmonised growth of various aviation sub-sectors, i.e. Airlines, Airports, Cargo, Maintenance Repairs and Overhaul services (MRO), General Aviation, Aerospace Manufacturing, Skill Development, etc.

  • It also proposes to simplify and make systems and processes affecting this sector more transparent with greater use of technology without compromising on safety and security.

  • The basic reason to push for the aviation sector is its large multiplier effect in terms of investments, tourism, and employment generation, especially for unskilled and semi-skilled workers. 

History of Aviation Law

The Indian aviation sector has been subjected to major reforms and policy changes since its beginning in 1911.

Legislative Framework of Aviation Law

The legislative framework for the sector is provided primarily by the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, and the Aircraft Act, 1934. The Ministry of Civil Aviation identifies key issues facing the aviation industry and makes effective policies to address them.

Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA)

The MCA is responsible for formulating national policies and programs that help develop and regulate the Indian civil aviation sector. It administers the Aircraft Act and Rules and various other aviation-related legislation. The MCA also exercises administrative control over entities like the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ("DGCA") and the Airports Authority of India ("AAI") and has the authority to enter into Bilateral Airline Service Agreements with other countries. Till date, the MCA has issued several policies including the Policy on Regional and Remote Area Air Connectivity, Policy Guidelines of Air Freight Stations, Policy for Training of Officers under IATA Training Programs, and Policy on Airport Infrastructure, 2011. Most recently, the MCA has released a comprehensive National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016.

National Civil Aviation Policy, 2016 (NCAP)

The first version of the civil aviation policy was released in November 2014, but was vehemently opposed by the industry, which prevented its implementation. After revamping the original policy based on stakeholder suggestions, the government released the NCAP, 2016, which focuses on creating safe, secure, affordable, and sustainable air travel that can be accessed by the masses across India.

The Airports Authority of India Act, 1994 (AAI Act)

The AAI Act provides a general framework under which airports in India are governed. Prior to the AAI Act, activities relating to the construction and management of airports were governed by the DGCA. However, due to a growing aviation market, Parliament enacted the International Airports Authority of India Act, 1971, and the National Airports Authority Act, 1985. These statutes established the International Airports Authority of India (IAAI) to manage international airports and the National Airports Authority (NAA) to manage domestic airports, respectively. The DGCA’s jurisdiction was limited to regulating activities relating to aircraft. With an ever-growing market and the NAA unable to generate sufficient funds, Parliament saw the need to merge the NAA and IAAI into one authority that could more cohesively manage both domestic and international airports and civil centers where air transport services are operated. Thus, the AAI Act was enacted, and pursuant to Section 2, the AAI was established.

As of January 1, 2016, the AAI manages a total of 125 airports and civil enclaves, including 11 international airports, of which 71 have scheduled commercial operations. Pursuant to Section 12 of the AAI Act, the AAI’s main functions include the following 

  • Construction, modification, and management of passenger and cargo terminals;

  • Development and maintenance of infrastructure, including runways, parallel taxiways, and aprons;

  • Management of air traffic services; and

  • Preservation of safety and order at airport premises and civil enclaves

The Aircraft Act, 1934 (Aircraft Act) read with the Aircraft Rules, 1937 (Rules)

The primary function of the Aircraft Act is to provide the central government with the power to make rules that govern aircraft. Specifically, Section 5 of the Aircraft Act states that the Central Government shall have the power to make rules regulating the manufacture, sale, use, operation, export and import, and safety of all civil aircraft. The Rules themselves provide detailed regulations that need to be complied with in relation to:

  • The inspection and control of the manufacture, repair, and maintenance of aircraft and of the places where aircraft are being manufactured, repaired, or kept

  • The registration and marking of aircraft

  • The licensing of persons employed in aircraft operation, manufacture, repair, or maintenance

  • Outlining a broad framework for aircraft airworthiness under which the DGCA can operate

International Conventions on Aviation Law

The international conventions on aviation law are 

Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, 1944 (Chicago Convention)

India ratified the Chicago Convention on March 1, 1947, and in doing so, it bound itself to the principle tenets of the Convention, which include the safe and peaceful development and operation of international air travel. The Convention requires that contracting states ensure that their aircraft do not cross jurisdictions and that one contracting state’s aviation services do not interfere with another’s. These broad principles are reflected in many Indian aviation rules and statutes, like the DGCA’s Civil Aviation Requirements. Pursuant to this Convention, India also became one of the founding members of the International Civil Aviation Organization ("ICAO"), which codifies the principles and techniques set forth in the Chicago Convention.

Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, 1999 (Montreal Convention)

The Cape Town Convention standardizes transactions involving movable property. It creates standards for the registration of ownership, security interests, leases, conditional sales, and various legal remedies for default in financing agreements, including repossession and the effect of particular states’ bankruptcy laws. The Protocol to the Cape Town Convention makes these provisions applicable to aircraft objects. India ratified both the Convention and the Protocol on March 31, 2008.


Air law is very intimately connected with the modern economic development of states. Air transport is based on factors such as cargo export and import, passenger movement, tourism promotion, and a variety of other national activities. In this manner, air law looks to ensure equality of opportunity between states. It helps facilitate competing interests between counties and ensures cooperation. Air law has to ensure equality of opportunity for airlines. Aviation has a major role in the economic development of states and people. Modern air law has made significant contributions to international trade, economics, and development.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What is the aviation law in India?

Ans: The Aircraft Act, 1934, and the Aircraft Rules, 1937, regulate the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, and import and export of aircrafts.

Q2. What is aviation regulation?

Ans: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation is the regulatory body in the field of civil aviation, primarily dealing with safety issues. It is responsible for the regulation of air transport services to/from/within India and for enforcement of civil air regulations, air safety, and airworthiness standards.

Q3. Who does regulate the airline?

Ans: The Federal Aviation Administration is the largest transportation agency of the U.S. government and regulates all aspects of civil aviation.

Q4. What is the golden rule in aviation?

Ans: The golden rules of aviation law are the basic principles of flying modern commercial aircraft.

Updated on: 16-Jan-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started