Testimonies for alumni(ae) of the IASL


'McGill University’s graduates number over 170,000 men and women throughout the world. Among them are Nobel laureates, Olympic medalists, Supreme Court judges and Prime Ministers.

Since its birth in 1951, the Institute of Air & Space Law has graduated more than 800 students, who today occupy senior positions in law firms, corporations, governmental and intergovernmental institutions, along with universities, in some 120 countries worldwide. Some of them have shared their thoughts about studying at McGill:

Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne, DCL 1996

My thoughts on McGill

As an airline executive in the 1980s armed with a master's degree in air law from Monash University, Victoria, Australia, my only ambition was to join the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill to pursue doctoral studies. It was, to my mind, the quintessential goal - to be a part of a legendary institution, the only one of its kind in the world.

Ruwantissa Abeyratne, DCL 1996

I realized that dream when I was appointed a young professional at ICAO in 1990. When I walked into the Institute in August 1991 for the first time as a doctoral candidate, I was struck by the Latin maxim on the wall in the main lecture room. It said Sic Volo:Sic Jubeo which means Thus I will, thus I command, my pleasure stands for a reason. This translated in my mind as the epitome of my dream and the extent of my academic aspirations and expectations.

Looking back at what the Institute offered me, I can recall meeting and exchanging views with such intellectual giants as Michael Milde and Paul Stephen Dempsey, whose writings inspired me to apply the range of my knowledge to the depths of my curiosity. I realized that I had joined a unique community which rejoiced in the richness of its common academic heritage and the belief that imitation was suicide and creativity was the essence of wisdom. At a time when profound and powerful forces were shaking and remaking the world, I was in a research intensive university steeped in academic traditions and values - a university which knew no limits when it came to making its students realize that, in a fast changing world, our challenges were fearsome, but so were our strengths.

From McGill and its wonderful institute I have taken with me the certainty of my judgments and the boldness of my convictions to serve the aerospace world and help others that might need my guidance. For this I shall be forever grateful.

Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne DCL (1996) and President, IASL Alumni Association (2003-2009)

Fredrik Brandel, Air & Space Law Diploma ’83, LL.M. ’84 (with thesis)

My LL.M. thesis at McGill covered ”Recent Trends in European Air Transport Law and Policy with Reference to Routes, Tariffs and Capacity”.
Fredrik Brandel currently works at Hedvalls Advokatbyrå, in Stockholm, Sweden.

I am currently working professionally as a lawyer in Stockholm, Sweden. I specialize in litigation in various fields, such as commercial law, labour law, company law, family law, real estate law and criminal law.

Being interested in aviation, I studied for for a Private Pilot Licence, and have now flown about 150 hours. This, combined with my McGill degrees, has led me to join the board of AOPA – Sweden, which is a part of the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (IAOPA).

AOPA informs politicians, CABs and the public about general aviation. We write opinions on new legislation, and point out consequences of various aviation rules, both to the authorities in Sweden and to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). We also attend conferences and advise ICAO in matter of general aviation.

Brian D. Challenger, Air & Space Diploma '89

Brian D. Challenger, Air & Space Diploma '89 Chief Technical Adviser, Ministry of Tourism & Civil Aviation, Antigua & Barbuda.

My academic training at IASL has been indispensable in enabling me to attain a number of professional achievements. These have included serving as:

  • Chairman of the Eastern Caribbean Civil Aviation Authority, the regional aviation safety and security oversight agency for six eastern Caribbean island States;
  • Deputy Chairman of the Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority;
  • Director on the Board of Directors of LIAT 1974 Ltd, the eastern Caribbean’s principal inter-island air carrier.

The high standard of scholarship at IASL has equipped me with the legal background necessary for operating in the multiple jurisdictions (civil and common law) within the Caribbean.

Additionally, the comprehensive nature of the training, covering public and private law as well as public policy, has been critical in a world where issues and problems seldom fit neatly into any single academic category.

Finally, the informal networks established with other aviation professionals at IASL has been of tremendous assistance on a number of professional matters, as well as cementing friendships with distinguished colleagues in diverse elements of the aviation industry around the world.

Mostafa Foroutan, LL.M.’70, on his studies at the IASL

Mostafa Foroutan, LL.M.'70

Even though I was a diplomat being posted to several countries, my educational background at the Institute of Air & Space Law helped me significantly to be useful in the legal and international side of the Foreign Office of my country.

My participation in many bilateral and multilateral meetings, drafting and improving the texts of some agreements, representing Foreign Office in the High Council of Civil Aviation of Iran for many years, and also teaching principles of air & space law at the Faculty of International Relations affiliated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran for several terms were the direct result of what I gained during my studies at the Institute and I am grateful for that.

Some thoughts from Jiefang Huang, LL.M. 1985, about graduating from the IASL

Jienfang Huang, LL.M.'85, today works as a Legal Officer for ICAO

I was attracted to McGill 25 years ago because the Institute of Air and Space Law was regarded as the jewel of the crown in this field. The Chinese government sent me to Montreal with the hope that I could bring the seed of aerospace law expertise back to China. Nothing went according to the plan, and I ended up staying in Montreal working for 190 States in a United Nations specialized agency called ICAO. To rescue the original plan, I am still trying to use one stone to kill two birds, by teaching air law courses in China every year.

ICAO stands for International Civil Aviation Organization. It was set up when the whole world was about to reach the end of the tunnel of the Second World War and began to see the light of peace. Its main objective is the safe and orderly development of international civil aviation. Just as cars have to follow the rules of the road, airplanes have to follow the rules of the air. For the latter, it has to be done at the global scale. As one veteran put it, it would be confusing and unsafe for an aircraft to circle to the left before landing on an airport of one country, and to the right before landing in the next. Our job in ICAO is to assist States to establish uniform law and practices, ranging from criminalization of terrorists acts, compensation for victims, to the use of traffic lights.

The work in the UN is challenging, not because of sleepless nights before signing ceremonies, or heavy jet lag on the eve of a world-wide meeting. The most demanding job is to seek the common ground among diversities. Someone once told me that when three lawyers are in the same room, you could have four opinions. From this, one could imagine the work with the lawyers from 190 countries. It will require full understanding of different backgrounds and solid accumulation of legal knowledge.

Fortunately, McGill has equipped me with the basics I need. The Institute of Air and Space Law is a miniature of the UN. Twenty or fewer students in my class came from at least twelve countries. This offered us with an excellent multi-cultural opportunity to understand each other, including various customs and traditions. Interestingly, we often have a reunion of the Institute’s alumni in ICAO, under all kinds of hats, not only from the Secretariat but also from numerous national delegations. Regardless of the differences in nationalities, races, genders and age, we all have the common name “The McGill Mafia”. McGill diplomas are certainly regarded as a precious currency fluidly circulated in aviation world.

McGill is also somewhat unique in the sense that it covers both the common law and civil law programmes in a bilingual environment. That was one of the motivations for me to take credit equivalence in Bachelor’s courses in the Law Faculty after I completed my Master’s programme. This “refurbishment” proves to have had lasting benefits for me. I recall in one instance, there was a heated debate regarding the difference between “responsibility” and “liability” in ICAO. It is easier to comprehend the reason of the debate if one knows that only one word exists in many languages for these two words in English.

It is indeed a privilege to have an opportunity to have studied law at McGill.

Luama Wilkins Mays, LL.M'67

Luama Wilkins Mays, LL.M.'67, invites old friends to get back in touch

The McGill IASL program made it possible for me to enjoy a very challenging and rewarding career in international commercial aviation. The experience of being selected to study Air and Space Law with sixteen other students from around the world was very inspiring. And then being instructed by internationally-renowned aviation professionals, at the world-famous McGill University, made it, without a doubt, the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I highly recommend the program.

The General Electric Company (GE) holds a high regard for McGill graduates and their GE Aviation Division recruited me before graduation in 1967. They were interested in my experience as a military test pilot, as an aircraft accident investigator, and my airline transport pilot license (ATP), which was now all tied together by my diploma from IASL. I was offered a position to create a totally new concept of locating GE owned commercial lease engines around the world. GE had committed to the international airline community that if they purchased the new GE high bypass commercial engine, GE would provide GE-owned emergency lease engine support (AOG) around the world on a 24/7 basis.

The challenge at first glance was overwhelming, but the McGill IASL training gave me the confidence that if it could be done, I would find a way to accomplish it. Rolls-Royce and Pratt & Whitney, the world's leading commercial aircraft engine manufacturers at that time (1968), had refused to even consider such a high-risk international venture. Thus began the challenge of a lifetime, for this was before there was an international registry to protect ownership rights in mobile equipment. The Cape Town Convention, which now provides for safe leasing / financing for US aircraft / engines by registering with The International Aircraft Registry (Dublin, Ireland) didn't become effective in the USA until ratification on March 1st, 2006.

The only way to reduce this high risk-of-loss was to construct very comprehensive agreements with strict operational and safety protocols. After many months of negotiating with various US and international governmental agencies, and various airlines (some with IASL alumni), most of the the safety challenges were solved. Then a US/GE part 91 (engine only) hybrid airline was created to guaranteed the airworthiness of every GE-owned lease engine with the financial backing of the General Electric Company. GE Leasing was born and continues to this day.

My past aviation experience and my legal training – especially the excellent McGill IASL experience – made it possible to create and manage such a comprehensive and complicated international operation. I was able to solicit valuable and timely advise from many IASL alumni and staff, especially professors Ivan A. Vlasic and Martin A. Bradley. It is now accepted internationally that this accident-free, engine and tooling lease operation contributed in making General Electric Commercial Engines the world leader. The operation has since grown under GE Financial to include all types of airliners. I was presented the FAA Wright Brothers "Master Pilot" Award for my over 50 years of dedicated service, technical expertise, professionalism, and many outstanding contributions that further the cause of aviation safety.

As an alumnus, I tried to express my profound and lasting gratitude to McGill IASL, by arranging with Director Edward McWhinney (1967) to recommend several students, each summer, who might not ever have the opportunity to visit the USA. The objective was to expose them to one week of good old midwestern hospitality. They would stay with my family and participate in feasting (cook their favorite foods and compare them to ours) - lively conversation, and visits to world-famous US Air Force Museum. Also when possible, there were long and interesting space-related conversations with Professor and Astronaut Neil Armstrong, who was teaching aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati. I am very proud to say that many students visited Cincinnati under this program - but unfortunately I lost contact them due to the pressures of GE business.

I took early retirement from GE to own and operate a Bell Helicopter Sales, Service and Charter Operation for south-west Ohio. I am a member of the NTSB and Lawyer Pilots Bar Associations, and licensed as an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) for both fixed and rotary wing aircraft.

I would like for anyone reading this who visited us to contact me. I would love to know how you and your families are doing. Email me at Lumays [at] fuse.net (Lumays [at] fuse.net)

“To Sir with Love” by Julianne S. Oh, LL.M. 2006

Julianne Sang-Eun Oh, LL.M.'06

With time, I realize more and more what quality education my alma mater, McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law, has provided me. Inter alia, McGill’s badge enabled me – who apparently has no connection to the continent of Europe – to gain invaluable work experience with the Air Transport Directorate of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.

But today, I would like to focus on something else. My first year at the Institute was one of the most fantastic years of my life so far. Perhaps, the “ego-booster” that I was the first - and last as of today - female and ‘private’ candidate (i.e., without any institutional support) from my country of origin who was accepted to this prestigious school might have added excitement to it. When the thesis program students were paired up with their future thesis supervisors in the second semester, I only knew about my supervisor in terms that he was one of the experts in the topic I was interested in, since he is an adjunct professor living in another country, flying in town on a need basis. Back then, I had no idea what a blessing this pairing would be. In this regard, I offer my deep gratitude to Professor Armand de Mestral, who was at that time the acting director of the Institute, for his “match-making!”

A great deal of personal challenges had come my way following the first year of course work. Living through such a frustrating time, I came to doubt the value of academic degrees in today’s corporate world, and furthermore, I became skeptical about the point of adding another, as I already had a Master’s and other degrees.

There my supervisor was, providing guidance. Until then, he had, out of respect, never ‘policed’ my performance in writing my thesis. It is unnecessary to list what he did to bring me back on the right track, but in sum, I sensed his quiet yet firm trust and conviction, even though we met in person only for a few hours throughout the actual process, due to distance. His genuine care, which went beyond the scope of his professional duty, made me feel in a way obliged to finish what I begun. Eventually, I ended up with what he called a ‘pioneering’ thesis on one of the emerging air-political issues at the time.

Certainly, I am indebted to him for his academic and intellectual guidance, and I must say that he is very hard to please when it comes to quality of work. And yet, what made him a constant inspiration is the “Mr. Keating”* I had encountered in him. As we pursue higher education, we tend to meet more “professors” than “teachers,” and needless to say, the IASL may very likely be positioned at the end of one’s educational journey. Thus, it was a precious, fortunate and unexpected discovery for me to have such a supervisor, considering the level of education that the IASL offers.

Thanks to him, I can still pursue this area of my heart’s desire, and more importantly I can still dream (of flying high!)… I believe that sharing a such personal story is not what lawyers would normally do, but I decided to do it because I believe my professor deserves recognition – his ‘teacher’s heart’ certainly does!

Along with the professional and academic success one may expect by being part of the IASL, the human warmth, which universally touches our deepest core, is still alive in the old house on 3661 Peel: in the corridors of this ivory tower full of lawyers, you may still run into your own “Mr. Keating”!

* Who is often referred to the discussion of teachers’ image and model, Dead Poets Society 1989.

Editor's note: Adjunct Professor Peter van Fenema supervised Ms Oh's thesis work. He works in Amsterdam.

Dr. George S. Robinson, LL.M.’67, D.C.L.’70.

George S. Robinson, LL.M.’67, D.C.L.’70

It was Stephen E. Doyle, an early graduate of McGill’s Institute of Air and Space Law, who encouraged me to attend the Institute in the mid-1960s, from which I eventually earned both my LL.M. and D.C.L. degrees (the latter of which was the first awarded by the Institute). My residencies at the Institute allowed me to meet and interact professionally as well as socially with student colleagues and faculty members from various parts of the world.

These contacts, studies and research, all related to domestic and international aviation and space activities laws, were and continue to be critically important in my work with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, NASA, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and in my private law practice.

In addition to a “routine” law practice in remote areas of the world, representing primarily scientists from many disciplines, my tasks as legal counsel for 25 years at the Smithsonian Institution involved working extensively with astronauts and cosmonauts, as well as those individuals formulating official space policies. The Institution also afforded me the opportunities to assist in securing the funding and providing legal oversight of construction of the National Air and Space Museum and its adjunct facility at Dulles International Airport (Udvar-Hazy facility), and in working closely with aviation and space curators to ensure satisfaction of international and domestic laws in the collection of air and space artifacts for the museum collections. The Smithsonian also allowed me the opportunity to conceptualize and implement several major first-of-a-kind international space law conferences, such as “The First International Conference on Doing Business in Space: Legal Issues and Practical Problems”, and “First Principles for the Governance of Outer Space Societies”, both of which allowed me to call on the participation of IASL students and faculty. My education at the IASL, along with the publication of over a hundred books and articles dealing with various aspects of air law and space law, were instrumental in my graduate school teaching career, speaking engagements, and as a lecturer in space law at numerous universities domestically and internationally. They also contributed to my formulation and/or participation on a number of Governmental Advisory Committees, including those of NASA, the Department of the Interior, and the National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council.

Finally, in 1990, at the request of Professor Stephen Gorove* of the University of Mississippi School of Law, I conceived the pilot project of a Space Law Moot Court competition in which seven law schools in the Washington, D.C., area were invited to participate and argue a case before three Judges of the World Court as part of a program to entertain colleagues of the International Institute of Space Law during the 1991 IAF Congress. This project ultimately metamorphosed into the IISL’s International Space Law Moot Court competition, largely through the ingenuity and hard work of another McGill IASL graduate, Dr. Milton “Skip” Smith, LL.M.’85, D.C.L.’89.

* Editor's note: Prof. Gorove had worked as consultant to the Institute of Air and Space Law. He passed away in May 2001, aged 83.

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