U.S. Aviation Accidents Law Blog

Aircraft design defects - the standards that matter most

If the skies could speak, they might reveal a galaxy of secrets from aviation history. From the earliest design flaws in the Christmas Bullet - an early 1900's plane intended to have flapping wings - to the malfunctions engineers say caused recent engine failures in Boeing aircraft, structural defects create serious problems for the airline industry. Fatal plane crashes in New York and around the world leave family members to question who has the final say when design defects have catastrophic outcomes.

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has similar questions, not only when an aircraft goes down but also anytime members and their colleagues take one up. In 2016, the AOPA made headlines when asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case involving aviation products liability.

Are small planes actually safe?

If you are a typical New Yorker, commercial airline flights are a normal part of your life. If you work for one of the many companies that own a private jet or helicopter, you likely are well acquainted with corporate business flights, too. You may even have friends who own their own private plane or own one yourself. Has it ever occurred to you to wonder if these small planes are safe?

Live Science reports that while small planes are not inherently dangerous, when it comes to the possibility of having an accident, taking a flight in one is about 19 times more dangerous than taking a ride in your car. While over 30,000 people die in traffic accidents each year as compared to 400 who die in small plane accidents, these raw numbers mean virtually nothing. That is because the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency tasked with keeping statistics on both vehicle and plane accidents, measures vehicle accidents by the number of miles traveled, whereas it measures plane accidents by every 100,000 hours flown. Thus the raw fatality numbers are an apples versus oranges comparison.

Do you need to worry about objects falling from planes?

In the television show "Dead Like Me," the main character was killed by a toilet seat falling from a commercial airplane. This is certainly a frightening prospect, and you might worry if something similar could happen to you. After all, countless planes fly over New York every day. It might seem only a matter of time until something falls from a plane and lands on someone.

Claims by Air & Space Smithsonian might not do much to reassure you. According to reports, debris falls from aircraft regularly. This occurs so often, in fact, that those in aviation call the phenomenon TFOA, or "things falling off aircraft." One cited example included a fatal airplane accident in Paris, France, in 2000. Reportedly, an engine cowl wear strip detached itself from the plane as it took off, causing the plane to crash shortly afterward.

Aviation accidents and strict liability

At Kreindler & Kreindler, LLP, in New York, we understand that a plane crash may be the type of accident you most fear. Whether the crash involves a sightseeing helicopter, a private plane or a huge commercial jet, your life is at stake in any kind of aviation accident.

While pilot error often contributes to an aviation accident, a failure or malfunction of the plane's mechanical or electrical systems sometimes causes it to behave in dangerous ways. In addition, one or more of the plane's component parts can fail or malfunction, causing or contributing to the crash. When such is the case, FindLaw explains that the doctrine of strict liability holds the plane's manufacturer and/or the manufacturer of a failed or malfunctioning part legally responsible for any injuries or deaths suffered by the crew or passengers.

Pilot in deadly crash that killed 5 had fentanyl in system

Boarding a helicopter in New York or another part of the United States poses inevitable risks, but pilots who abuse substances before getting behind helicopter controls considerably amplify these risks. A recent Albuquerque, New Mexico, helicopter crash offered possible evidence of this, as an autopsy report that followed the fatal crash revealed the pilot had fentanyl in his system at the time the incident occurred.

Per CBS News, the pilot in the crash that killed five (including the pilot) had a powerful opioid pain killer in his system when his aircraft went down, though it is unclear exactly why he was using the prescription medication. While it is also unclear, to date, exactly how much fentanyl the pilot had in his system, he was a highly experienced pilot, suggesting inexperience may not have been a factor. Additionally, skies were clear the night of the flight, suggesting that the cause of the incident was probably not weather-related.

Why did a major airline ignore its mechanics' concerns?

When you board a commercial aircraft in New York, you probably do not ask yourself the last time the plane underwent inspection. Why? Chances are, you trust that the airline itself has a team of mechanics in place who are making sure the aircraft is safe for flight. Regrettably, however, it appears that at least one major airline is questioning its mechanics when they report issues and discouraging them from reporting identified problems.

According to NBC 5 KXAS, the Federal Aviation Administration believes there is a "broken safety culture" within one of the nation's leading airlines, and that a widespread relaxing of standards within the company is endangering those who fly with it. Some mechanics who worked for the airline, which recently made headlines when a woman lost her life after an incident involving the plane's window, reported they were subject to criticism and questioning, rather than praise, for bringing mechanical problems to their higher-up's attention.

Questions surround deadly Arizona small plane crash

A recent small plane crash in Arizona is raising questions about what exactly caused the plane to crash shortly after takeoff, leading to the deaths of all six people onboard. The National Transportation Safety Board is now conducting a comprehensive investigation into the cause of the crash with the hope that doing so will reveal additional details that can help prevent future, similar incidents.

According to People, no one on the ground suffered injury because of the crash, but additional details surrounding the incident were relatively scarce immediately following it. However, early reports indicate that the plane crashed very shortly after taking off sometime around 8:45 p.m.

Metal weakness under microscope after deadly Southwest incident

The recent tragedy involving a woman's death onboard a Southwest Airlines flight sent shock waves across New York and the nation, and the incident is raising important questions about the engine safety of today's commercial aircraft. At Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, we understand the types of tragedies that can result from aircraft design defects, and we have helped many clients and family members seek recourse in the wake of plane crashes and related incidents.

Per Bloomberg, metal weakness, which was a factor in the aforementioned jet engine explosion, resulted in part of the plane's engine breaking apart and scattering, ultimately leading to the death of a female passenger seated next to the window. Part of the engine broke apart and shattered the plane's window, leading to the passenger's death after she suffered blunt-impact trauma to her head, neck and body.

What is a major cause of airplane accidents?

You have finally purchased your plane tickets and your flight leaves New York in a few days. Though you are excited, you cannot help but have some concerns about safety. Airplane accidents are nowhere near as common as motor vehicle accidents. However, they do happen enough to cause the public alarm.

There are many factors that contribute to airplane accidents. Most incidents involve negligence, mechanical failure and weather. However, the single most common cause of aircraft accidents is pilot error, states Statistic Brain.

How common is pilot drug abuse?

Anytime you board a flight in New York, whether getting on a small plane, a helicopter, a commercial airplane or something else entirely, you assume a certain level of risk. Mechanical failures, weather-related complications and pilot errors are always possibilities, but according to one study involving the use of certain drugs by pilots, pilot errors caused by drug abuse should also be valid concerns for flyers.

According to CNN, in one study involving 6,677 pilot deaths that occurred between 1990 and 2012, almost 4 percent of pilots who died had illegal drugs in their systems at the time of their crashes. Additionally, 40 percent of all pilots who died had some sort of drug (illegal, prescription or over the counter) in their systems when they lost their lives, marking a 30-percent jump since 1990.