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Air Law Institute Symposium Series Off to a Flying Start

Panelists at the inaugural Air & Space Law Symposium as William Janicki of Morrison & Foerster presents

The inaugural Air & Space Law Symposium weekend series got off to a flying start on March 14 at California Western School of Law.

The sold-out event was presented by the San Diego-based Air Law Institute (ALI), co-founded by David A. Cain ’13. Symposium speakers explored fascinating issues facing the aerospace industry—including commercial space flight and unmanned aircraft—and what new regulations are needed to make these ventures viable and safe.

The symposium brought together aerospace industry leaders, practicing air and space attorneys, and legal scholars, who addressed current and emerging issues in the field—at the intersection of law, business, and technology.

California Western Dean Niels B. Schaumann welcomed attendees to the conference, highlighting San Diego’s deep ties to aviation history—the city where Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis was built and the home of many aviation firsts.

“Our community is poised to lead this industry into the future,” Schaumann said. “It is in that spirit that we kick off today’s symposium, exploring the past, present, and future of air and space law.”

One of the hottest topics on the future of aviation is the growth of use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV)—a field that is almost completely unregulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“Many of the laws have yet to be written,” said speaker retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James M. Zortman, Sector Vice President, Global Logistics & Operational Support, at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. “There are so many issues—legal, ethical, social, and technological.”

Zortman believes it will take bold cooperation between business and government to develop the unmanned aircraft industry, much as the same partnership helped develop the airline passenger industry. “It can rival or surpass the manned aviation industry,” he added of the unmanned aircraft field.

Though some in the public tend to have negative perception about UAVs, David Bannard of the law firm Foley & Lardner says there are many beneficial applications such as “delivering vaccines to remote locations in the world.”

“The rest of the world is way ahead of the U.S., particularly Europe,” said Ben Gielow, the general counsel at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, while pointing out that the FAA presently does not have the resources to enforce any new unmanned aircraft laws.

The event continued Friday evening with an awards ceremony, appropriately enough, at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. The keynote speaker was the Vice Chairman of General Atomics, Linden S. Blue, who has a highly distinguished resume in the aerospace industry.

Blue was among several inaugural Inspiration Award recipients, also including California Western Professor William C. Lynch; Joanne Gabrynowicz, Professor Emerita at the University of Mississippi School of Law and Editor of the Space Law Journal; and aspiring aviators John Totaro of the Florida Air Academy and Abigail Harrison, better known as “Astronaut Abby.”

The weekend concluded with a golf tournament on Saturday that featured a lunchtime town hall meeting afterwards with U.S. Representative Scott Peters (D-San Diego).

“I believe the symposium went as well as we could have hoped for an inaugural event,” said Cain. “Without the early and consistent support from California Western, Congressman Peters, General Atomics, and Morrison & Foerster, the event would certainly not have been as successful as it was. The fact that California Western and ALI were able to bring together world-class players from the aerospace industry, government, and academia bodes well for the future."

The full list of major sponsors of the inaugural symposium includes Airbus, Northrop Grumman, California Western School of Law, Foley Lardner LLP, Morrison & Foerster, and San Diego Wind Tunnel.