Aviation Law Monitor

Insight and Commentary on aviation accidents and the law

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Among the most dangerous  activities in the aviation industry is the installation on an aircraft of unapproved or bogus parts – parts that have not been properly tested, approved, and certified as safe.  The practice has been linked to the crash of both commercial and private aircraft.  It is illegal to install uncertified parts on an aircraft and the practice is so dangerous that those who do can end up in jail. The FAA has now determined that Boeing installed unapproved parts on over 700 of its 737 aircraft.   We’re not talking here about parts related to the crash…
Families of those lost in the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max crash met with Biden’s Transportation Department seeking to get the top FAA official fired for being “too cozy” with Boeing. According to the families, “The FAA has been, and continues to be, more interested in protecting Boeing and the aviation industry than safety.”  The families specifically question why the FAA did not ground the Max jets after the crash of the first 737 Max crash in Indonesia. The problem, however, is  not just the FAA leadership.  Rather it’s the entire FAA system that needs to be overhauled.  It…
On October 2, 2019, a World War II-era B-17 flying fortress bomber departed Bradley International Airport in Connecticut for a local sightseeing flight with 10 paying tourists on board.  Shortly after takeoff  the pilot radioed that he was returning to the airport because of an engine problem.  A witness reported an engine was sputtering and smoking. Ultimately, the pilot reported a problem with yet another of the aircraft’s engines. The airplane crashed on the airport premises and burst into flames. Seven occupants were killed. Two persons on the ground were injured. The four-engine bomber should have been able to make…
The pilot of a Bellanca 8GCBC Scout, Registration N4116Y, died when the aircraft crashed at Byron Airport on May 9th.  According to a witness, the tow plane took off pulling a glider. While still at a low altitude, the glider climbed abruptly.  The maneuver pulled the tail of the tow plane into the air, pointing its nose down.  “The tow plane cut the cord and tried to recover but it was too late.” The tow plane crashed onto the runway and caught fire. This particular accident profile is not uncommon.  That’s why it is the responsibility of the glider…
From the outset it looked to me as though the Kobe Bryant crash was a simple case of “continued VFR into IMC” — a crash caused by a pilot wandering into clouds and fog and losing control of the helicopter and crashing. The NTSB’s update seems to confirm just that.   Here are the four important points from the update: A photograph of the helicopter seems to show it entering clouds. The pilot was on a visual flight rules (or “VFR”) flight. On a VFR flight, the pilot is supposed to control the helicopter by looking out the window rather than…
Helicopters come to grief all too often after encountering clouds or fog. In fact, it seems that it was an encounter with low clouds that lead to the fatal Safari Helicopter Crash on Kauai just a few weeks ago. Fog can lead to a helicopter crash in two ways. First, the pilot can, upon encountering clouds, lose track of the horizon. Once that happens, the pilot may not know which way is up. The disoriented pilot will soon lose control of the helicopter and crash. Second, once in the clouds, the pilot may maintain control of the helicopter only to…
A passenger boarded a United flight from Rome to San Francisco. He asked for food. The flight attendant refused. The two exchanged words. Eventually, another flight attendant heard the argument and brought the passenger some crackers. The passenger ate the crackers, took his seat, and went to sleep. While the passenger slept, the flight attendant convinced the pilot to land the plane. The pilot diverted to Belfast. On landing, the flight attendant reported to the local police that the passenger threatened the safety of the flight. The report was false. Nonetheless, the Belfast police detained the passenger for ten months.…
Of course it’s too early to know why the Safari Helicopters AStar crashed this week, killing all aboard. But it sure looks like a long line of other Hawai’ian tour crashes that fall under the category “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” or CFIT for short. Hawai’i is subject to “microclimates.” The weather can be fine at the helicopter’s point of departure, but the pilot can encounter clouds, rain or fog along the route. The pilot then has a choice. He can turn around and disappoint the tourists on board. Or he can press on a bit, deviating around the clouds…
The first thing Boeing does when sued for a crash on foreign soil is try to get those lawsuits moved out of the US and into the foreign countries.  In the case of the 737 Max cases, it means trying to move them to Indonesia and Ethiopia.  If Boeing’s successful, the cases would be virtually worthless and the families would get next to nothing. The legal doctrine that Boeing relies on is called forum non conveniens. I’ve written about Boeing’s “FNC” strategy most recently here.   And then I gave an interview explaining the strategy to Business Insider…
The National Transportation Board investigates every general aviation accident.  It chalks up the vast majority to pilot error. But half the time, it’s just wrong. The trouble’s that, in investigating an accident, the NTSB refuses to consult with the pilot’s family or the family’s experts. Rather, it invites into the investigation only other potentially responsible parties–usually the manufacturers of the plane and the plane’s engine–seeking their technical “expertise.” That introduces into the investigation an inherent conflict of interest. It’s no wonder that the NTSB ends up blaming the pilot more often than not. I’ve written about the inherent conflict of