The US Department of Transportation fined Asiana $500,000 today for failing to live up to its obligations under the Family Assistance Act of 1996 in the days following the crash of flight 214. Instead of getting crucial information to the victims and their families, Asiana was busy publicizing its plans to sue KTVU for "disparaging" the airline by reading bogus crew names over the air.
Aircraft engine manufacturers recommend that owners overhaul their engines when the engines have accumulated a set number of flight hours. Depending on the make and model, the "Time Between Overhaul" ranges from 1200 to 2400 hours. No regulation requires the general aviation aircraft owner to comply with the manufacturer's recommended TBO. As far as the FAA is concerned, the owner is free to operate the engine indefinitely, as long as a certified mechanic has signed off the engine as airworthy within the preceding 12 months. And given recent advances in engine diagnostic equipment, more and more owners are feeling comfortable "busting" TBO.
I wrote about the practice years ago, in a post entitled "Running Past TBO: Smart Economics or Owner Negligence?" The NTSB recently came down on the side of "owner negligence," at least in the case of a Cirrus engine that was operated past Teledyne Continental's recommended 2000 hour TBO.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The inadequate servicing and maintenance of the engine and the airplane owner and maintenance personnel's disregard of the manufacturer's recommended engine overhaul schedule and service bulletins, which resulted in an in-flight internal failure and seizure of the engine.
In that case, the engine failed at 2978 hours. The NTSB also faulted the pilot for flying the aircraft with only 5 quarts of oil on board, instead of 6 quarts as recommended by the manufacturer.
Fortunately, no one was hurt. But an owner should think twice about running past TBO, regardless of whether an FAA-certified mechanic has pronounced the engine airworthy.
Robinson Helicopters has been installing bladder-style fuel tanks in its R44 helicopters since 2009. But much of the fleet manufactured before then is still flying with the old-style aluminum tanks that tend to rupture in otherwise minor accidents.
Last year, following a string of needless post-crash R44 fires, the Australian civil aviation authorities grounded all R44 helicopters until their owners retrofitted them with the new bladder-style tanks. Not a bad idea.
The FAA refused to follow the Aussies' lead, saying that "R44 fuel system crashworthiness does not appear inconsistent with other similar helicopters." Because most other helicopters do not tend to explode in otherwise survivable accidents, no one was sure what the FAA was talking about. Now the NTSB is asking the FAA to reconsider and to ground Robinson R44 helicopters that aren't retrofitted with the safer bladder tanks. According to the NTSB, requiring owners to retrofit their helicopters will "prevent accidents and save lives."
It's hard to understand why the FAA is so reluctant to mandate the retrofits.
When the engine quits just after takeoff, the pilot has few options. One is to attempt to turn around and try to land at the airport. It's such a difficult maneuver that it's often referred to as "the impossible turn." I've written about the "impossible turn" before. AvWeb's Paul Bertorelli takes another look at the turn in the video below. Bertorelli suggests that the turn is an option that a pilot should not write off. But it does require practice.
My advice is to practice with plenty of altitude. I've had two cases involving fatalities resulting from turning back after simulated engine failures during flight training. One is here.
Some say that a properly designed aircraft should not catch fire in an otherwise survivable accident. We know this crash was survivable, because the pilot was able to walk away from the wreckage. If it weren't for the post-crash fire, the pilot likely would have survived.
The Cirrus Aircraft boasts many safety features, such as its rocket-propelled parachute. But the Bolingbrook crash is one more data point tending to show that the Cirrus seems to be unusually susceptible to post crash fires, especially when compared to other modern aircraft.
Kristine Meredith has been appointed Chair of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Aviation Law Section. The mission of AAJ is to promote a fair and effective justice system and to support attorneys representing those injured by the misconduct or negligence of others in cases against the most powerful interests.
The Aviation Law Section focuses on major air crash litigation. The Section offers to lawyers information on all aspects of aircraft accident investigation and reconstruction as well as how to handle aviation suits involving airlines, aircraft manufacturers, aircraft owners/operators as well as the federal government.
The Robinson R66's safety record to date is troubling. The aircraft did not go into production until 2010 and the fleet is very small. Yet a total of five R66 helicopters have already crashed, killing 11:
- July 12, 2011, Flandes, Colombia, pilot and passenger killed;
- October 1, 2011, near Philip, South Dakota, pilot killed;
- January 3, 2013, Caraguatatuba, Sao Paolo, Brazil, pilot and passenger killed;
- March 9, 2013, Oamaru Valley, near Taupo, New Zealand, pilot killed; and
- July 27, 2013, near Skyhaven Airport, Pennsylvania, pilot and 4 passengers killed.
Lawsuits have just been filed regarding two of those crashes.
The first was filed last month in Los Angeles against Robinson Helicopter Company and others arising from the Colombia Crash. The crash occurred moments after take off in good weather The lawsuit alleges that the R66 fuel system was defective and that, as a result, the Rolls-Royce RR300 turbine engine that powers the R66 repeatedly cycled between full power and low power, rendering the helicopter uncontrollable and causing it to crash. The suit was filed by Ronald Goldman and Ilyas Akbari, two attorneys who have a long track record of suing Robinson.
The second suit deals with last month's R66 crash in northeastern Pennsylvania. That helicopter crashed in the vicinity of thunderstorm activity. The suit was filed by another prominent helicopter accident attorney, Gary Robb of Kansas City on behalf of a woman who lost her 3 year old son in the crash. Robb's suit alleges that the charter service that owned the R66 is liable for allowing a pilot to fly the helicopter who was not competent for the mission he was attempting.
The last thing a victim needs just after an accident is for a crush of lawyers to show up on his doorstep, uninvited, pressuring him to sign up for a lawsuit. But that's what happens after just about every major air crash. That type of lawyer solicitation is distasteful, to say the least.
But thanks to a special law passed by Congress in 1996, it's also illegal. The law applies only to airline crashes and prohibits lawyers from contacting victims for the purposes of soliciting business for 45 days after the accident.
Unsolicited communications.— In the event of an accident involving an air carrier providing interstate or foreign air transportation and in the event of an accident involving a foreign air carrier that occurs within the United States, no unsolicited communication concerning a potential action for personal injury or wrongful death may be made by an attorney (including any associate, agent, employee, or other representative of an attorney) or any potential party to the litigation to an individual injured in the accident, or to a relative of an individual involved in the accident, before the 45th day following the date of the accident."
Every aviation lawyer knows the rule. But, unfortunately, not every aviation lawyer follows it. When lawyers cross the line, it's up to the NTSB to set them straight.
Immediately after the Asiana 214 crash, word circulated within the aviation bar that, as usual, some attorneys couldn't seem to restrain themselves and were doing whatever they could to get to the crash victims and get them to sign up for a lawsuit -- even if it meant violating the law. According to an AP article by Paul Elias and Ian Mader, one firm in question is Chicago-based Ribbeck Law Chartered, which made the news recently after it filed legal papers on behalf of 83 of the Chinese victims it claims to represent.
The National Transportation Safety Board says it has received an unspecified number of complaints. . . NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said. . . the NTSB reported one firm, Chicago-based Ribbeck Law Chartered, to the Illinois agency that regulates attorneys for further investigation of its on line communications and in-person meetings with passengers."
According to the article, Ribbeck Law is not the only firm that has shown up at the hotel where victims were staying. The question will be whether the firms were invited or if they simply showed up.
Related Post: Attorney Solicitation
Asiana Flight 214’s crash landing and the events that followed were traumatic experiences for all aboard. Even some of those who suffered no physical injury will struggle with emotional injuries for months if not years to come.
Normally, a passenger would be entitled to compensation for all the emotional distress suffered, regardless of whether the passenger was physically injured. But under the Montreal Convention, Asiana is not liable for a passenger’s emotional distress, regardless of how severe, unless the passenger has also sustained a physical injury. Thus, those passengers who managed to evacuate without being physically injured will likely be left with no rights against Asiana at all.
What if, in addition to severe emotional distress, a passenger sustained a relatively minor injury, such as a cut on a leg or a twisted ankle? Can that passenger recover for her emotional distress then?
Most courts say no.
Jack v. Trans World Airlines, involved TWA Flight 843. The aircraft was headed to SFO from JFK, but aborted its takeoff and crashed. Fire destroyed the plane but everyone survived. Many passengers had minor physical injuries. The federal court in California ruled that passengers could recover damages for the emotional distress stemming from their physical injuries, but not the emotional distress caused by the experience of crashing.
The emotional distress recoverable is limited to the distress about the physical impact or manifestation, i.e., the bodily injury. Recovery is not allowed for the distress about the accident itself.”