Specialist aviation expertise

Our firm’s aviation practice is led by James Cooper, a distinguished aviation lawyer known for his litigation prowess in representing key industry participants and their insurers in Australia and the broader region.

James’s experience includes acting for airlines and their insurers in some of the most significant airline incidents impacting our region in recent times, including the loss of Malaysia Airlines flights MH370 and MH17, and the major in-flight events involving Qantas flights QF30 and QF72. As well as serious incidents, James also has considerable experience handling attritional insured airline and air operator losses, including claims for passenger injury and delay, baggage and cargo loss, and third party property damage.

Our team also regularly advises clients and their insurers in Australia’s growing general aviation market, including handling hull, injury, and fatality claims.

Importantly, in a heavily regulated industry such as aviation, our team has a keen understanding of local and international aviation laws, providing strategic counsel on compliance and commercial issues including licensing, ticketing, privacy and competition rules.

Market recognised lawyers

James’s exceptional legal acumen has earned him recognition in esteemed publications such as Chambers & Partners Asia Pacific Guide (Aviation: Liability), The Legal 500 Asia Pacific Guide (Shipping: Rising Star), and Doyle’s Guide (Aviation). His commitment to excellence and dedication to client success make him a trusted advisor in the aviation sectors. Melbourne-based team member Merinda Stewart is a Leiden University Air Law School (Netherlands) alumni, successfully defending her PhD in 2021 concerning freedom of overflight in international airspace.

The rapidly evolving technology around drones and electric aircraft is encouraging novel thinking about risk in the aviation sector, and how to balance the use of these accessible machines against traditional aviation rules. Our team is at the forefront of legal thinking on those issues, with James Cooper and Merinda Stewart being key contributing authors in the leading international legal textbook on drones “Drone Law and Policy: Global Development, Risks, Regulation and Insurance”, published in 2021.

Recent work

MH370 and MH17 major losses

Advising Malaysia Airlines and its insurers on claims arising from the loss of flights MH370 and MH17. Both incidents involved the sensitive handling of many claims brought by family members in Australia, including the conduct of the airline’s defence in various court proceedings and ultimately the successful resolution of all claims via several dispute resolution mechanisms.

Novel aircraft arrest proceeding

Acting for an aircraft lessor in successfully applying for an unprecedented urgent injunction order in the Federal Court of Australia allowing for the arrest and seizure of two of the client’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft on lease to an international airline based in Asia. This was a fast moving and challenging case, involving coordination with several critical stakeholders – airport authorities, Airservices Australia, ground handling agents, among others. The needs of passengers impacted by the arrests also had to be addressed. Ultimately, the aircraft were successfully seized under court order and later released following a commercial resolution.

Emerging aviation technology – drones

Advising a multi-national company on the planned expansion of its commercial drone fleet into Australia. This involved a close analysis of Australia’s developing regulations governing the commercial use of drones in Australian airspace, including licensing, insurance, operational restrictions, and liability issues.

High profile airline liability litigation

Representing a major international airline and its insurers in successfully defending a high-profile passenger injury claim brought in the Supreme Court of Victoria. The claim involved the application in Australia of several key liability principles arising under the international convention governing carriage by air. The nature of the alleged incident was such that it received significant local and international press coverage. The matter ran to trial and judgment was ultimately obtained in favour of the airline, with the claim being dismissed in its entirety.

Aviation workplace injuries

Representing key participants in the local aviation services sector (including grounding handling agents, aircraft maintenance organisations, and catering companies) in handling claims brought by injured workers for compensation under the various state-based workers compensation regimes.

Aviation Key Contacts

James Cooper
Special Counsel, Aviation Lead