Mark is an English-qualified lawyer and the global head of aircraft finance at Clyde & Co, a law firm with 2,200 legal professionals worldwide and a focus on six core sectors: aviation; marine; insurance; energy; trade and commodities; and infrastructure. Mark’s experience includes loan and lease financing; operating and tax-based leases; export credit finance; and aircraft purchase and trading, in a wide variety of jurisdictions. He also has wide experience of regulatory matters in aviation. Mark studied at Oxford University and is a guest lecturer at Leiden University’s International Institute of Air and Space Law.
What attracted you to a career in the law?
I read history at university so was used to reading and analysing voluminous material while sitting alone at my desk for long periods! Law always appealed as an area that is similarly document-heavy and analytical, but also combines the excitement of the commercial world. I have always worked in transportation, which is a sector focus of Clyde & Co, and focused on aviation as soon as I could. Aviation appeals to me for the same reason that it appeals to many practitioners: a high-profile industry, heavily regulated, constantly changing, unequalled opportunities for international travel. I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to visit 50-plus countries in my career, which is actually quite low by aviation lawyer standards! My parents used to live in Kenya so the international nature of the industry always appealed.
What are the main challenges currently facing lawyers in the aviation finance space?
Without wanting to sound flippant, being replaced by a robot! Artificial intelligence is going to make a huge difference to the provisions of legal services, especially in respect of commoditised transactions that (dare one say) some aircraft financing products are. Smart contracts, blockchain, the internet of things – I think they are all to be embraced rather than frightened of, but the changes in the next few years could be overwhelming. It’s going to be very exciting for the younger generation of lawyers!
How has the development of Brexit affected the type of regulatory advice that you give to clients?
We have been heavily involved in giving Brexit-related advice since the referendum result in June 2016. Examples include the establishment of Wizz Air UK, advice on traffic rights, ownership and control issues, and VAT/importation. I led the Clyde & Co team that wrote an extensive report for the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) on the legal implications of Brexit for business aviation (February 2018). For me it’s been quite an experience and a great opportunity to learn a lot more about aspects of EU air law that otherwise I probably wouldn’t have needed to find out about. The rights or wrongs of Brexit as such are another issue!
How is increasing concern around the environmental impact of aviation affecting the nature of client demands?
The environmental impact of aviation is already, and is going to continue to be, the biggest issue for the next decade or more. You can see with flygskam (or “flight shaming”), for example, that there is a real change in the mood among passengers towards the environmental impact of aviation. In my opinion aviation actually has a good track record in endeavouring to address climate change issues, but with the world’s fleet set to double in the next 20 years this is clearly a challenging area. No airline will be able to fall behind the curve on this, and whether the solution to emissions lies in new technology or new aviation fuels or trading/offset mechanisms such as the EU ETS or CORSIA, this area will be a priority for clients.
Looking forward, what do you believe will be the main legal challenges that new technologies such as electronic aircraft and drones will pose?
The main issue is that the rate of technological development in respect of unmanned aerial vehicles and VTOL aircraft is outpacing regulation. These new technologies impact so many areas of law: insurance and risk management, privacy, product liability, IP protection, etc, that it’s hard for the law in all of these areas to keep up. We are fortunate at Clyde & Co in having a multidisciplinary group that specialises in this area, and it is our aim to be the market leader in advising on new technologies.
Which area of aviation law would you like to focus more on if you could and why?
Definitely space law as I’m fascinated by everything to do with space travel, especially the development of private space projects such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. The 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 has been a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the significance of humankind taking its first steps into space, an incredible achievement.
As the firm’s global head of aviation finance, what are your priorities for its development over the next few years?
To be the market-leading aircraft finance and leasing practice focused on commercial airlines, and also to offer our airline clients a full-service offering across any related area of law that they require (regulatory, aircraft procurement, commercial contracts etc). In addition, to be the market-leading business jets practice. In each case, globally.
What is the best piece of career advice you have received?
Law can be all-encompassing so make sure you find time for normal life, especially family and friends.