Mission and History of the Institute



In 1944, the world community laid the groundwork for the establishment of the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal. ICAO' principal mission was to achieve international cooperation to ensure that the legal and regulatory regime governing aviation would be uniform across nations. One can imagine what a Tower of Babel international aviation would have become had ICAO's 191 current Member States adopted differing legal rules and standards. Without a harmonious legal and regulatory regime, the development of international aviation and space would have been seriously impeded.

By its very nature, aviation shrinks the planet, integrating disparate cultures and economies, and facilitating peaceful, prosperous and cooperative global order. Globalisation has created interdependence among nations and peoples of the world, and air transportation has facilitated that interdependence.

Recognising the critical role that legal education would play in facilitating integration of legal standards globally, in 1951, McGill University established the Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL) to provide graduate legal education for students from around the world. In the ensuing seventy years, IASL has educated over 1200 students from 120 countries. Today, our graduates hold some of the highest positions in international organizations, governmental air transport ministries, airlines, and law firms around the world.

Mission Statement

The objectives of the Institute of Air and Space Law are to:

  • Educate the next generation of air and space lawyers to serve the needs of the air and space community worldwide. The IASL’s educational emphasis is graduate in character and international in scope. Since promulgation of the Warsaw Convention of 1929, the Chicago Convention of 1944, and the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a guiding principle of both private and public international Air and Space Law has been to create a standard universal and ubiquitous legal regime. By sending the IASL graduates far and wide with a solid educational background, McGill has facilitated that important objective of worldwide law harmonization.
  • Offer IASL students the best graduate education in Air and Space Law available anywhere in the world. Though the IASL has been teaching Air and Space Law at McGill University for more than half a century, the Institute constantly strives to improve its educational programme. It has designed a curriculum relevant to the needs of its graduates, to provide a base of relevant practical and theoretical information and analytical and communications skills to enable its graduates to perform their professional duties proficiently.
  • Publish interdisciplinary research valuable to governmental and multinational institutions, the airline and aerospace industries, and the legal profession. Since 1976, the IASL Centre for Research in Air & Space Law has published the Annals of Air & Space Law as well as books, reports, studies, and conference proceedings; the IASL faculty publishes widely in other legal periodicals as well. Our faculty also assists international organizations and governmental institutions in their efforts to advance Air and Space Law and policy.
  • Serve the professional educational needs of the aviation and space law bar. The IASL’s workshops, conferences and seminars are attended by legal practitioners, government officials, industry leaders and professors from around the world. Over the years, the Institute has been visited by delegates from many nations seeking cutting edge information on emerging developments in Air and Space Law.
  • Create a thriving intellectual environment and professional global network for the IASL faculty, students, graduates, and experts in the field. The IASL brings together some of the world’s premiere experts in Air and Space Law under one roof for research, informal discussions, class lectures, seminars and conferences.

Mission statement - (traditional) Chinese

Mission statement - Dutch

Mission statement - Français

Mission statement- Greek

Mission statement - Hebrew

Mission statement - Italian

Mission statement - Korean

Mission statement - Persian

Mission statement - Russian

Mission statement - Swedish

Mission statement - Thai

History of the IASL

text adapted from "At the Threshold of a New Millennium: The Institute of Air and Space Law Revisited", by Director Emeritus Dr Nicolas Mateesco Matte, OC, QC, FRSC

The Institute's Early Years

The Institute of Air and Space Law (IASL) was originally founded in 1951 under McGill University's administration as the International Institute of Air Law. Coincidentally, it was also in 1951 that I established a chair of Air Law (that eventually was broadened to become Drit aérien et spatial) at the Université de Montréal: indeed, it was the first course of this nature given in French in North America.

John Cobb Cooper, eminent US jurist and former Legal Adviser at IATA, worked with McGill University to establish the IASL as a unique, avant-garde, post-graduate learning institution. He became the Institute's first Director.

In subsequent years, Professor Cooper secured financial support for the Institute from a number of US foundations, particularly in the form of fellowships for students from developing countries. McGill's initial contributions to the Institute consisted mainly of providing premises on its campus, academic and administrative staff and the best choice of postgraduate students.

The directors that succeeded Professor Cooper - whether chosen from among McGill's Faculty of Law professors or from outside - must be commended for their hard work in developing and promoting the Institute and its programs:

  • Dr Eugène Pépin (former Director of the Legal Bureau of ICAO) 1955-1959;
  • Mr Alfred Beatty Rosevear QC (former General Counsel at Trans Canada Air Lines, predecessor of Air Canada) 1959-1962;
  • Prof Maxwell Cohen OC, QC (Professor at McGill Faculty of Law) 1962-1965;
  • Sir Francis Vallat QC (former Legal Advisor in the British Foreign Office) 1965-1966;
  • Prof Edward McWhinney QC (Professor at McGill Faculty of Law and former Member of Parliament, Canada) 1966-1971;
  • Dr Ivan A. Vlasic (graduate of the IASL and Professor at McGill Faculty of Law) 1971 - 1975;
  • Prof Dr Nicolas Mateesco Matte OC, QC, FRSC (former Professor at the Université de Montréal; Visiting Professor and Research Director at the IASL, assisted by Dr Jean-Louis Magdelénat) 1975-1989;
  • Dr Michael Milde (former student and Lecturer at the IASL; former Director of the Legal Bureau of ICAO) 1989-1998;
  • Dr Armand de Mestral (Professor at McGill's Faculty of Law) 1998 and Interim Director until 2000;
  • Prof Paul S. Dempsey (former student at the IASL; Tomlinson Chair in Global Governance in Air and Space Law) 2000-2016;
  • Prof Ram S. Jakhu (former student and Associate Professor ) 2016-2017; and
  • Prof Brian F. Havel 2017-2022
  • Prof Donal Hanley (2022-2023)
  • Prof Vincent Correia (incumbent)
  • Prof Andrea Harrington (incumbent)


Read "The Road Ahead", address by Professor Paul S. Dempsey delivered on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary Conference of the Institute of Air and Space Law in April 2002.

Please download the "70 Years of Excellence in Air and Space Lawbrochure about the Institute of Air and Space Law's history and accomplishments since 1951.


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