Philippe Wenker is a “top name on the finance side” with an exceptional understanding of regulatory matters involved in aviation law.
Philippe 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 advises banks, lessors, airlines and business jet owners and operators on a large number of multinational aircraft financing transactions.
What inspired you to specialise in aviation law?
When I was a rookie lawyer, one of my first assignments was selling a MD-80 maintenance facility in Ireland, and I was left alone and had virtually no clue. But, I worked through it and learned to ask the simple questions in order to understand what it is all about in this fascinating industry. Since then, I have stayed with aviation and I love it.
How is the aviation industry responding to the covid-19 pandemic?
As a member of the aviation community of course it was and still is very sad to see the line-ups of parked aircraft fleets all around the globe, considering that aircraft are meant to fly, to cross borders and to connect people. covid-19 forced reactions and measures were just the opposite of that. Aviation was one of the first industries that was hit by the pandemic and likely one of the last ones that will get out of it again. For sure the industry (but not all players) will survive, given the need of air transport and its benefits for the economy and society. Some will maybe even do better.
Do you believe that covid-19 will be the catalyst towards the long-term reduction in aviation emissions?
There are two aspects to that: first, there is the number of air passengers. During covid-19 travel, in particular by air, has become all over sudden no longer a matter of course. Maybe people have now a greater awareness when considering whether to travel (by air) or not and what the value is. Which is good. Second, there is the efficiency of the means of transport. Since before covid-19, the aviation industry has been putting in a lot of effort to find solutions to reduce its carbon footprint, 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 CORSIA, the world-wide Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation endorsed by ICAO. Domestic environmental tax on airline tickets, as just recently passed by the Swiss parliament, or similar is for sure not the right approach for a global industry.
In your opinion, what impact will the New EU Drone Regulations reform have in Switzerland and across Europe?
Drones or UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) is a very fascinating evolving industry with many interesting applications. Like aircraft, but with less range (at least for now), drones may cross borders and it makes much sense to have harmonised rules and regulations in order to create a level playing field. Switzerland (as a non-EU state) will implement the new EU regulations likely in 2021. It remains to be seen whether the new regulations will achieve their aims, namely the implementation of a stringent safety system, while endorsing innovation.
How do you see your practice developing over the next five years and how does Blum & Grob distinguish itself from competitors?
The market for legal services is not was it used to be some years ago. Competition is tougher, some legal services are now commodities which can more efficiently be produced by other means or providers - and there is nothing wrong with that. Times where everyone does a bit of everything are definitively over. Our approach to that is that we focus on specialised services which really add value for the client combined with management support which goes beyond legal matters. That is the kind of service that clients are and will be well prepared to pay for.
What has been your most interesting case to date and why?
Well, quite a number of cases, some even funny and some really challenging, but all interesting. Aviation 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 safeguard that all the pieces of the puzzle fall into their places at a specific point in time. To facilitate “many happy landings” is the most interesting aspect.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in aviation law?
In short, think out of the box, understand the industry and do it with passion.