Philippe G Wenker is partner and co-head of Blum&Grob’s aviation team, which advises a substantial number of airlines, business jet operators and other suppliers to the industry, such as maintenance and aircraft interior completion facilities, on a wide variety of contractual, commercial, corporate, tax and contentious matters. His particular focus lies on aircraft financings where he has advised banks, lessors, airlines and business jet owners and operators in many multinational aircraft financing transactions.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
I started off very broad and law was, in my view, a good platform to gain insight into various industries and businesses. Now, having specialised in aviation with a passion for well over a decade, I can draw from all that experience.
What do you enjoy most about working in aviation?
First and foremost, is it a fascinating industry where people love what they do. In a way, it is a sharing of the same passion. Aircraft do, and are meant to, cross borders and we are able to draw from a world-wide network of specialised law firms and other service providers who understand the business. To sum up, it is exciting to make things work and, last but not least, fly.
What do clients look for in an effective aviation lawyer?
Aviation is a highly technical and regulated industry. You should be able to pinpoint and overcome the little obstacles and at the same time not be afraid to ask the simple questions in order to serve the overall purpose. It regularly involves multiple jurisdictions and time-zones, and you need to have a sound general understanding of how and why things work differently in other jurisdictions and cultures. You need to have the ability to take care of all the pieces of the puzzle so that they fall into their places at a specific point in time, as there is no worse scenario than having an aircraft with 250-plus passengers grounded, or a newly built aircraft left on the tarmac that is blocking the production line.
How is the generational shift changing legal practice at your firm? What do younger lawyers do differently?
I am always astonished by how well trained and focused younger lawyers are. They have very clear expectations – from a work-life balance point of view as well. However, sometimes this comes at the price of being real entrepreneurs and, speaking frankly, sometimes there is also nothing wrong with having learned the lesson of failure – and standing up again.
How do you anticipate the Swiss legal market changing in the next five years? How might this affect your practice?
The market for legal services is not what it was some years ago. Competition is tougher, and some legal services are now commodities that can be produced more efficiently by other means or providers – and there is nothing wrong with that. The time when everyone did a bit of everything is definitively over.
Our approach to that is to focus on specialised services that really add value for the client, combined with management support that goes beyond legal matters. That is the kind of service that clients are, and will be, well prepared to pay for.
What impact has increasing pressures from climate change and environmental discussions surrounding reducing emissions had on the work you are seeing?
Aviation and, in particular, business aviation, are easy targets in that discussion. At the same time, the need for air transport, and its direct and indirect benefits for the economy and society, are undisputed. Compared to the modest share that aviation contributes to global emissions, the industry is putting a lot of effort into finding solutions for a reduction, ranging from alternative fuels to engine design innovation, and the restructuring of air traffic management. But there are technical limits to that. Most people are not aware that, at least in Europe, airlines are already required to offset their emissions through the EU Emissions Trading System, which will soon be followed by the world-wide Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) endorsed by the International Civil Aviation Organization. At the end of the day, it is also a question of changing people’s mindset in offsetting personal emissions from air travel, through easily available offsetting solutions – rather than just buying tickets at low prices.
How do you see the use of drones affecting the aviation industry, as well as your own practice, in the future?
It is a very fascinating, evolving industry with many interesting applications. Switzerland is one of the jurisdictions leading the way – for example, by endorsing U-Space, an air traffic management system for unmanned aircraft systems, and I am pleased to say that we are on top of things. Passenger transport by drones is still at a very early trial stage and, speaking frankly, I cannot see drones replacing aviation – rather, one day, being an add-on. This is not only due to current technical limits (such as range), but also to people’s scepticism towards a self-driving means of transport. However, that may well change with the next generation.
What has been your proudest achievement to date?
My three young children. Besides that, no particular matter, but rather tackling the unique challenges of the transaction, delivering the results in time and, eventually, wishing the aircraft many happy landings.