Amendments to the Aircraft Registration Act: Key Observations

13 Sep 2021

4 min read

Malta is an optimal jurisdiction for Aircraft Registration and many advantages come part and parcel with registering an aircraft in the Maltese islands[1].  On the 6th of June 2021, the President of Malta signed Act XXXVII of 2021 into law. The raison d’etre of this act aimed to amend several laws which relate to aircraft registration in Malta and recognise further relevant EU regulations which provide common rules for civil aviation and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The impetus of these amendments will be analysed below:

Definition of ‘aircraft’ and ‘unmanned aircraft’

A change worth taking note of is the amendment on the definition of an ‘aircraft’ in the principal act, the Aircraft Registration Act. Previously, the definition of the word aircraft was provided as follows:

‘Including air frames with aircraft engines installed thereon, but shall exclude aircraft used in the military, customs or police services of any State’

This definition shall be substituted with an addition to the original definition, adding ‘unmanned aircraft whose design is subject to certification under the EASA Basic Regulation.’. Previously, the act only mentioned the term ‘unmanned’ in the Miscellaneous section of the Act. By virtue of Act XXXVII, the Act introduces the definition of an ‘unmanned aircraft’ as

“unmanned aircraft” means any aircraft operating or designed to operate autonomously or to  be  piloted remotely without a pilot on board.

It goes without saying that the definition of a legal term is imperative in that it determines the legal bounds and provide certainty as to what the law is pertains to. In this case, the amendment does not deviate from its original predecessor. However, it still considers the rules and formally provides for the registration of drones with the Maltese registry.

Widening the parameters for Registration Remarks

In order to keep up with demands for registration marks, Annex 5 (Formalities) caters for broadening the basis for registration mark availability. The amendment seeks to extend the availability of the characters used after the nationality marks of the aircraft (9 and H), from three capital letters in Roman, to a group of three to five characters which can a combination of roman characters and/or Arabic numbers.

Strengthening the current locus standi for IDERA

The Irrevocable Deregistration and Export Request Authorisations (IDERA) was also subject to amendments by virtue of the Act. The procedures relating to IDERA have also been amended by means of this act, more specifically, they go one step further one step further in the regulation of IDERA, providing a clearer framework. Deregistration was also considered, as the Act provides that, taking into account the Authority’s powers to de-register an aircraft under the applicable laws, an aircraft which has a recorded IDERA may not be de-registered on the request of the applicant, unless the IDERA itself is subject to revocation.

A new warrant: On Ejectment or Expulsion from Seagoing Vessels or Aircrafts

The Act introduces a new warrant in the current legal framework, introduced as Article 384A. This warrant allows a mortgagee to request the publication of a warrant of ejection or expulsion. This warrant caters for scenarios in which occupants of the vessel or aircraft (or the lessees, or mortgagee) might leave he aircraft or vessel within the time provided for in the amendments. The vessel which is indicated in the warrant is then detained in Malta for the purposes of the execution of the same warrant of ejectment or expulsion. Insofar as the detention of the vessel or aircraft is concerned, in such scenarios, Article 388C (for vessels) and Article 388E for aircrafts shall apply mutatis mutandis. The amendments taking into account this warrant consistently throughout the Act, as can be seen in the amendment pertaining to Article 855 of the Code of Organization and Civil Procedure (Chapter 12 of the Laws of Malta)

Minor Amendments

The rest of the act seeks to pursue minor changes in the Aircraft Registration Act, such as the substitution of the ERM ‘National Aircraft Register’ to be substituted with ‘Malta Aircraft Register’. In addition to this, the Second Schedule to the Act was also subject to amendment.

Concluding Remarks

It is clear from these observations that the objectives of the amendments were to offer transparency to both practitioners and potential clients when approaching aircraft registration, as well as considering imperative rules issued by the EASA. A cohesive legal and regulatory instrument which keeps up with the needs of the industry concerned while also encouraging the growth and innovation of the industry, is imperative for the smooth-running of the aviation industry in Malta and the amendments ensure this, by taking into account such growth. As practitioners, it shall be interesting to see how the driving force behind these amendments and the above observations shall hold as time passes.

[1] https://gvzh.mt/malta-law/aviation/aircraft-registration/