Government will continue to intervene to make aviation sector more sustainable
Is aviation on a one-way journey or a round trip? That is the question Steven Truxal will answer in his inaugural lecture From Disruption to Innovation in Air and Space: Legal Solutions for a Sustainable Future on Monday 15 November. This professor of air and space law is positive. That’s one thing he’s willing to reveal. He thinks that the havoc wrought by Covid has made aviation ripe for a sustainable future. But this doesn’t mean dangers don’t lie ahead.
The new director of the International Institute of Air and Space Law arrived in Leiden in November last year. Fortunately, he had seen his students a few times live before the country went into a long lockdown. The Covid restrictions did have their advantages, though. ‘I’m normally flying from one place to the next, but now I had plenty of time to get to know Leiden and its surroundings by bike and on foot. I soon felt at home in this beautiful town.’
‘The compactness of Leiden is really pleasing’
Truxal is a British American who as an adult has lived in Germany and regularly visited Denmark. He speaks German and Danish, which means his Dutch is pretty good already. And he was already used to the Dutch directness from the Danish, he says. So it was actually really easy to feel at home in Leiden, and his Danish husband is positive about the new posting too. ‘It feels very familiar here. The compactness of Leiden is really pleasing. When I run my Singelpark route, people say hello.’
Truxal is the institute’s fifth director and the first one who isn’t Dutch. He wants to put the institute more firmly on the map. ‘Everyone in the sector knows the institute, of course. But people like my neighbour also have an interest in aviation. They should know what’s going on in the sector.’
The institute, which dates from 1985, also deserves more attention because it is a real gem for the Netherlands, says Truxal. ‘There are only two in the world, and one is in Leiden. That’s something to be proud of.’ The other one is in Montreal and is affiliated with the English-speaking McGill University. Like the Leiden one, it focuses on international air and space travel. All that differs is the geographical perspective: Montreal focuses on North America and Leiden on Europe.
Truxal just flew in from Montreal this morning. As the new director he attended meetings with the secretary-general of the International Civilian Aviation Organization (the specialised UN agency for civil aviation) and other key figures in aviation. He reconnected with old contacts and made new ones too. He thinks it is important to expand the institute’s international network.
By giving his views on topical matters, to opine, he wants the institute to take a more prominent role in the debate. ‘That can be provocative. That’s what professors should be. And not just by pointing out what’s going wrong, but also by saying which direction aviation should be taking.’
In his inaugural speech (Monday 15 November at 16:00, watch the livestream or register to attend) he gives a taster of this. He outlines developments in aviation. The effects of deregulation and market forces as well of the more recent government regulation on safety and sustainability. He also explains how this can help make the sector more sustainable and the drawbacks if the aviation sector doesn’t embrace this.
Because it’s clear to Truxal that the government will continue to intervene. ‘That the train to Groningen is more expensive than a flight to Spain isn’t something I think the market itself will change. So if you as a politician have an opinion on this you should intervene. The market doesn’t regulate everything. And if anything goes wrong, everyone looks to the state anyway, which, as every crisis shows, then has to solve it.’
‘Taking action before you are forced to is always better in the long term’
But there is a world of difference between relatively minor interventions and sweeping regulation of the aviation sector. A world in which the sector itself has to take responsibility for sustainable aviation. ‘Taking action before you are forced to is always better in the long term.’
It’s a rather economic approach for a professor of law, Truxal agrees. ‘Not completely surprising seeing as I did a degree in economics before studying law and specialising in air and space law. I also spent a few years working for Lufthansa and at the government I dealt with trade policy.’
The area he likes to be active in draws on this knowledge and experience. ‘I also like to look at the aviation sector from an economic perspective and from the angle of the government, law and the consumer. Changing your viewpoint, gaining insight into the different interests and perspectives, that’s how I like to view my legal field of work. Law provides the bandwith and solutions for the sector. In an international sector like this, where everything is based on agreements between states, on legislation therefore, and in which a lot of progress has to be made, that is incredibly exciting.’