News in brief from around the world…Following failed proceedings before the International Civil Aviation Organisation, Qatar has turned to the ICJ in its latest bid to remove airspace and other restrictions imposed by neighbouring Gulf states. Elsewhere, the US, Japan and Zimbabwe have put forward plans for aviation reforms, and the EU has approved a joint acquisition of London Luton Airport.

Middle East

⇒ A stellar disputes team from Debevoise & Plimpton is advising the government of Qatar in proceedings before the International Court of Justice, in which it is alleging “continuing human rights violations” – including unlawful airspace restrictions – by the United Arab Emirates.

The 58-page complaint, filed on 11 June, accuses the UAE, alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt, of imposing “an unlawful land, sea and air siege against Qatar as part of a campaign of political and economic coercion.”

The filing comes just over a year after the four gulf states established trade and travel embargoes against Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism and giving safe harbour to militant Islamist groups.

Qatar was quick to petition the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to enact a dispute resolution mechanism set out under the Chicago Convention, which would see ICAO’s council vote on the validity of the airspace restrictions, though the organisation refused to intervene.

The states found themselves back before the ICAO amid competing claims of airspace violations from Qatar and Bahrain, after two Qatari warplanes allegedly flew close to “a UAE Airbus 320” en route from the east coast emirate of Fujairah to Rome.

As part of a broader set of allegations of human rights violations by the UAE, which is the only one of the four sanctioning states to have submitted to the ICJ’s jurisdiction, the 11 June complaint said it had blocked its “airspace and seaports to Qatar and Qataris” and thereby “rendered Qatar inaccessible by air, by land, and by sea”.

The Debevoise team is led by partners Catherine Amirfar, Donald Francis Donovan, Lord (Peter) Goldsmith QC and David Rivkin. The UAE has yet to retain counsel.

Europe

⇒ The European Commission has approved the joint acquisition of London Luton Airport by infrastructure companies Aena Desarrollo Internacional of Spain and AMP Capital Investors, a UK subsidiary of AMP Limited of Australia.

The acquisition was announced on 24 April and will see Aena take a 51% stake in the airport with AMP taking the remaining 49%.

In an announcement on 11 June, the commission said the deal – which was investigated under its simplified merger review procedure – “would raise no competition concerns because of the limited impact it would have on the market.”

⇒ UK regional law firm asb has appointed a new partner and head of aviation, the firm announced on 23 May. Daniel James will focus on aviation matters, advising clients on commercial transactions, leases and the financing of aircraft and their components, as well as on matters involving repossession, insurance claims and regulation

James is returning to the Sussex and Kent-based firm where he began his career in 2002 as an associate, before moving to Stevens & Bolton as a senior aviation associate in September 2013. He also spent time seconded to a major international cargo airline.

“The aviation team at asb law is attracting diverse, high quality instructions and I very much look forward to growing the practice,” James said in a statement.

“This is an extremely interesting time for the aviation team. We are continuing to attract new clients and to grow the team and are delighted that Daniel has chosen to join us to help us navigate the next stage of the journey,” added former head of aviation Alina Nosek, who stepped down in April 2018 but remains an active part of the team.

USA

⇒ The US Federal Aviation Administration said on 7 June that will establish additional restrictions under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Relations – “Special Security Instructions” – on drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of 29 federal facilities across the United States, in partnership with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

This is the first time that the agency has placed specific flight restrictions for drones over Federal Bureau of Prisons and US Coast Guard facilities. The FAA has placed similar flight restrictions over military installations as well as ten Department of Interior facilities and seven Department of Energy facilities.

Operators who violate the flight restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges.

The FAA is continuing to consider additional requests by eligible federal security agencies for drone specific flight restrictions as they are received. Additional changes to these restrictions will be announced by the FAA “as appropriate”, the agency said.

⇒ Mark Whitson, a former in-house counsel at US in-flight communications company Satcom Direct, has opened his own law firm in Florida.

Whitson began his career as a judge advocate and naval flight officer in 1993, retiring from the Marine Corps Reserves at the rank of Colonel in 2017. During that time, he served variously as a military judge, reserve staff judge advocate for US Strategic Command and Marine Forces Command, as trial counsel, as well as a member of tactical jet aircrew.

He was a partner and shareholder at Virginia law firm Williams Mullen from 1999 to 2008, before becoming general counsel at AAR Airlift Group from 2007 to 2012. He went on to join defence contractor Raytheon as a training and development specialist in Iraq before moving to Satcom in June 2013.

Asia

⇒ A Chinese state entity’s arbitration claim against Yemen over the expropriation of its investment in an airport development project has been discontinued after the two sides reached a settlement.

The discontinuance of Beijing Urban Construction’s claim, which had been brought under the China-Yemen 1998 bilateral investment treaty, was recorded on the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) website on 7 June. The parties had agreed to suspend the proceedings in January.

Beijing Urban filed the claim in 2014 in relation to a US$114 million deal it had signed with Yemen’s civil aviation and meteorology authority to build an international airport in the country’s capital, Sana’a. Work began in 2006 and was expected to be completed within two years but there were substantial delays.

Details of the settlement are scarce but Yemen and Beijing Urban have issued a statement saying they “are pleased to announce that they have settled their differences in relation to the Sana'a airport project and […] look forward to future co-operation.”

More information is available via ALN’s sister publication Global Arbitration Review.

⇒ The Japanese transport ministry is planning to place new safety management obligations on aircraft manufacturers ahead of the country’s first domestically produced small passenger jet is put into commercial service, English language paper The Japan Times reported.

The new regulations are reportedly aimed at enhancing international confidence by establishing standards as strict as those in Europe and the United States by the end of 2019.

The first domestically manufactured Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ) is expected to be delivered in 2020. The plane is currently being developed by Mitsubishi Aircraft Corp.

Africa

⇒ Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa introduced new civil aviation regulations into law on 8 June, local news website Daily News Live reported.

The new regulations reportedly detail procedures to apply for air operator certification and the duration of an air operator licence as well as certificate holders’ obligations, as well as requirements for leasing foreign-registered aircraft.

The new rules also mandate that the Civil Aviation Authority of Zimbabwe should conduct continuous surveillance of a certificate holder’s operations to ensure they are complying with protocols, the website said.