Spirit Airlines Likely Immune from Allred's Suit Alleging Airline Served Too Much Alcohol

Injured passengers have filed suit against Spirit Airlines in connection with last month’s drunken melee on board a flight from Baltimore to LAX.  The plaintiffs, represented by Los Angeles attorney GloriaAllred Sues Spirit Allred, seek to hold Spirit Airlines responsible for the conduct of the unruly passengers who injured them because Spirit Airlines allegedly fueled the flap with copious amounts of alcohol and failed to protect them from injury

Claims against ground-based barkeepers and others who over serve customers are permitted in some states.  But such suits don’t work when the defendant is an airline.  The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 grants an airline immunity from any liability arising from the airline’s choices in connection with “routes, rates, or service.”  “Service” includes drink service.  That means that when a drunken passenger injures his fellow traveler, the airline who served the offending passenger cannot be held liable.  Gee v. Southwest Airlines.   

This case isn’t going anywhere. 

Icon Aircraft A5 Purchase Agreement: Who would sign this thing?

As AOPA is pointing out, Icon’s 41-page purchase agreement for its long-awaited A5 is, well, “unusual.” 

Perhaps what is most troubling is its language that seeks to allow Icon to dodge liability for any accident, regardless of its cause.

Founder and CEO Kirk Hawkins told AOPA that Icon believes in "extreme responsibility."

What we’re trying to do, in a nutshell fundamentally, is put the responsibility [for accidents] where it belongs. . . If it’s our fault, we’ll own it.  If it’s your fault, you own it.”

Seems fair enough, except that’s not what the agreement says.  It says that if the accident is Icon’s fault because, for example, Icon screwed up the design or manufacture of the buyer's aircraft, the buyer and his family owns it, not Icon:

Owner and Managing Pilot understand that participating in ground, water and air operations and related activities could result in injuries from a variety of factors, including but not limited to . .  . defects in the aircraft or components. . .   Owner and Managing Pilot knowingly assume these risks on behalf of themselves and their Successors in Interest.

If Icon would like buyers or pilots to "knowingly" assume the risks of defects in its aircraft, maybe it should come out and tell us what those defects are. 

This is not about "extreme responsibility"  It's about extreme irresponsibility. Icon is trying to dodge liability for any defects resulting from  its own actions and shift it onto others. 

Who would buy an aircraft from a manufacturer who wants it in writing that if we made a mistake that injures someone, its your fault?

MH 370 Families File Last Minute Lawsuits Against Malaysia Airlines

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is still missing.  Before filing any lawsuits, the families of those missing would certainly prefer to know what happened. But with a strict two year statute of limitations set to expire tomorrow, the families have to file suit now or never.  So it’s not surprising that a flurry of lawsuits are being filed around the world. 

The Montreal Convention controls any lawsuits filed against Malaysia Airlines.  It allows suit to be filed against an airline in a U.S. court only if either:

  1. The passenger's ticket was issued in the United States;
  2. The passenger's journey was a round trip that started in the United States or was a one-way trip that ended in the United States; 
  3. The airline is incorporated in the United States;  
  4. The airline's principal place of business is in the United States;
  5. The United States was the passenger's permanent residence.              

Most of the passengers were Chinese, so, as expected, a number of families filed suits today in Beijing Court.  Many more filed in Malaysia.

But at least 45 plaintiffs joined in a suit filed in California federal court in a case entitled Zhang v. Malaysia Airlines Berhard.  At first blush, it wouldn’t appear that the plaintiffs can meet the Montreal Convention’s prerequisites for obtaining jurisdiction in the U.S.  For example, the passengers weren’t U.S. residents, nor is the airline’s principal place of business in the U.S.  So what’s the justification for filing here?

The plaintiffs allege that jurisdiction is proper in the U.S. because the airline is now legally “dead.”  When the person liable is dead, the Montreal Convention allows the family to sue those representing the dead entity’s estate.  Plaintiffs allege that, in this case, the entity now representing the dead airline’s estate is its insurer, Allianz Global, and that Allianz maintains offices in the United States.

[A]n action lies against Allianz after [Malaysia Airlines] was rendered defunct and dead and an action lies against those Defendants as would lie against [the airline].. . .. Defendant Allianz maintains its principle places of business in three locations in California and six other locations.

Certainly, a novel argument for access to the U.S. court system.  Expect Allianz to challenge U.S. jurisdiction almost immediately.

Pearl Harbor Helicopter Crash: Settling with Power?

Today a Bell helicopter crashed into Pearl Harbor near the Arizona Memorial.   Reports are that everyone survived.  

 

 

Some are saying the helicopter experienced engine failure.  Unlikely.  Instead, the pilot probably experienced "settling with power."  That's when the helicopter is forced down by the downdraft it   creates with its own rotors.  To avoid crashing, the pilot must ease up on the power.  In the video, you can hear power increasing.  Adding power (or torque) just makes things worse.   

Settling with PowerFrom the FAA's Rotorcraft Flying Handbook:

When recovering from a settling with power condition, the tendency on the part of the pilot is to first try to stop the descent by increasing collective pitch. However, this only results in increasing the stalled area of the rotor, thus increasing the rate of descent. Since inboard portions of the blades are stalled, cyclic control is limited. Recovery is accomplished by increasing forward speed, and/or partially lowering collective pitch. In a fully developed vortex ring state, the only recovery may be to enter autorotation to break the vortex ring state. When cyclic authority is regained, you can then increase forward airspeed.

Passengers Fall Ill on American Airlines Flight 109: Another Fume Event?

American Airlines Flight 109, traveling from London to Los Angeles, was two hours into its flight when passengers and crew members suddenly started fainting or otherwise becoming ill.   The captain turned the Boeing 777 around and landed at Heathrow. American Airlines 777 

According to the Daily Telegraph in Britain, the aircraft likely experienced a problem with the aircraft's pressurization system: 

This would suggest problems with cabin pressure, although normally such problems occur during take-off and landing.

American Airlines added that the aircraft was being inspected by maintenance engineers.

Actually, what happened was likely a “fume event.”  For years, the airline denied fume events existed, but now we know that they do.  And we know that they are dangerous.  In fact, I wrote about a fume event aboard another American Airlines Flight (Flight 49) almost five years ago.  

Here's what happens: airlines pump air into the cabin.  The air is a mix of fresh air and air that has been compressed by the aircraft's engines--known as "bleed air."  But when the air distribution system malfunctions, toxic chemicals found in the aircraft's engine oil can be heated and pumped through the airplane, creating a fume event that makes passengers sick

Sometimes the passengers recover quickly, sometimes the ill effects can linger for years, with victims suffering ongoing tremors, memory loss, and headaches.   

If they are injured, passengers can recover against the responsible airline.  Because American Airlines Flight 109light was international, the Montreal Convention applies.  The Convention requires an airline to offer fair compensation to anyone injured as a result of an "accident."  A fume event would likely qualify as an accident, even though some airlines now contend that fume events are a "normal” part of flight.

The flight attendants, however, can't sue the airlines due to workers' compensation laws. That means their only chance for compensation is a product defect claim against Boeing, the aircraft's manufacturer.  As it turns out, Boeing has known about the risks of fume events in its designs since the 1950’s.

Piper Turbo Lance Crash in Bakersfield: Icing?

Piper N36402 departed Reid-Hillview Airport for Las Vegas as it was getting dark.  The pilot had his wife and three children on board.  Though the weather was challenging, the aircraft was turbocharged, which would have allowed the pilot to climb above at least some of the clouds.  

The plane's flight path, speed, and altitude changes can be followed on FlightRadar24.  The radar track shows that thePiper Turbo Lance N26402 aircraft made at least one 180 degree turn, but then resumed its course.  

It wasn't long too long after that the pilot found himself in trouble. The radar data shows the aircraft's speed building excessively and its altitude dropping fast.  The made two mayday calls (recording below) before the aircraft crashed, killing all aboard.

The flight conditions were ripe for airframe icing.  The Piper Lance lacked deicing equipment.  Airframe icing changes the aerodynamics of the wing and tail and can bring an aircraft down in a matter of minutes.  The loss of control can be especially dramatic when it is the tail surface that ices up first.

 

SkyLife HEMS Crash and Weather

The SkyLife Bell 407 air ambulance helicopter departed from Porterville Airport at 6:52.  It crashed minutes later, halfway into its 50 mile flight to San Joaquin Hospital in Bakersfield.  The four aboard SkyLife Helicopter Crashwill killed, including the patient being transported.

The flying conditions at Porterville were acceptable.  Though it was dark, the weather was 3300 overcast, with light rain, light winds, and 9 miles visibility.  Under those conditions, the crew could fly “VFR,” meaning they could avoid terrain and other aircraft by simply looking out the windscreen.  Were the conditions significantly worse, the pilot would have had to fly “IFR,” and would have had to rely on instruments and help from air traffic control.

The helicopter crashed east of McFarland.  The airport nearest the crash site does not have weather reporting equipment.  But first responders say that by the time they arrived it was raining hard. Photos of the crash area show dense ground fog. 

 Heavy rain, by itself, does not necessarily pose a safety risk.  But the restricted flight visibility that generally accompanies heavy rain or fog, does.  A helicopter pilot who inadvertently wanders into clouds, fog, or heavy rain can quickly become disoriented and lose control of the aircraft . 

One challenge of night flying is seeing and avoiding poor weather conditions before you wander into them.  Inadvertent flight into clouds is called “continued VFR into IFR conditions.” Sometimes pilots, trying to stay out of the clouds, will fly lower and lower until they strike hillsides or power lines that are hidden in the darkness.  The results of that sort of “CFIT” accident are almost always fatal.

It’s too early to say if weather was even a factor in this case.  After all, the first responders who reported the poor conditions didn’t get to the site for more than an hour after the crash.  But ground scars should provide clues to whether the helicopter might have crashed because the pilot lost control or whether, instead, he struck the ground, wires or a radio tower that he could not see while in controlled flight.  

Investigators will also want to know whether the air ambulance crew had night vision goggles available to them.  Night vision goggles have been a hot button for the NTSB for some time. 

Russian Flight KGL9268: Former NTSB Investigator Says Missile Brought Airbus Down

A few days ago, most were saying it's too early to tell what brought down the Russian Airbus that crashed on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing all 224 aboard.  Now, there's talk of the aircraft being downed by a bomb.  

Why a bomb?  The best explanation comes an article written by former NTSB investigator Doug Herlihy, appearing in the Goldendale Sentinel:

First, it’s likely that the aircraft came apart in flight.

The pieces of aircraft and persons on board are being found spread over 20KM (over 15 miles) in the mountainous region of the southern Sinai. The spread of wreckage is the most critical piece of the accident puzzle.    

When aircraft break up in flight, the parts are spread by two phenomena: the “ballistics” of the pieces and the wind.  “Ballistics” refers to the shape and weight of the object (like bullets or feathers) and how they will fly to earth.  The second factor is the wind at various altitudes as the parts fall to earth.  Like tearing a pillow in the wind, the parts are widely spread.

Second, aircraft seldom blow up because of a defect lurking within.  History shows that they almost always blow up because of an outside force.

Rarely, have any system or fuel supply or tank ever exploded a modern airplane.  Jet aircraft jet fuel, like kerosene and diesel fuel is not prone to explosion.  And, though it is not uncommon for an airliner to be hit by lightning, it’s almost unheard of that it has caused an explosion. Investigators know that either an on-board bomb or a hit by an explosive device is very high on the list of clues to search for.

EMS Industry Leader Commits to Retrofitting Helicopter Fleet with Crashworthy Fuel Systems

Earlier this summer, the NTSB asked the FAA to require helicopter manufactures to equip all new aircraft with crashworthy fuel systems.  If history is any guide, we can expect the FAA to ignore that recommendation, despite that the FAA has known of the dangers posed by existing fuel system for decades.

But now Air Methods, one of the nation's largest EMS helicopter operators, has committed toAir Methods EMS retrofit its entire fleet of more than 70 Airbus AS350 helicopters with fuel systems that don't needlessly catch fire in a crash. 

Air Methods is committed to retrofitting 100% of our Airbus AS350/EC130 (H125/H130) fleet, and we are working directly with a thried party who is seeking certification for a crash resistant fuel system for the entire Airbus line.. . . For us, it's about doing the right thing."

The program will be costly.  And Air Methods is taking the action entirely voluntarily.  The FAA does not now require retrofitting, and it's unlikely it ever will.   

But, as Air Methods says, maybe it is about doing the right thing, rather than the most profitable thing. The question is, will other operators follow?

Van's Aircraft Company Sued

Experimental amateur-built aircraft crash more often than those assembled in a factory. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau found that, when compared to factory-built aircraft used in similar flight operations, amateur-built aircraft crash three times as often.  Our own National Transportation Safety Board studied the amateur-built accident rates and made similar findings.Victoria Vabre photo

One might expect that, because they are built by an amateur, an experimental aircraft’s wings would tend to fall off more often than those of a factory-built aircraft.  But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Most experimental aircraft are structurally sound.  Rather, according to NTSB data, the biggest issue is engine failure, often because of fuel flow problems.

And that’s exactly what brought down an experimental Van’s RV-10 aircraft in Toledo, Oregon, in June 2014.  The aircraft lost power on takeoff, killing the pilot and his 4 year-old passenger.  The NTSB concluded the engine failed because it wasn’t getting fuel.  Investigators found broken fragments of sealant in the aircraft’s fuel line where, of course, it wasn’t supposed to be.   

There are no statistics on how often the companies who sell kits get sued, but it’s hardly ever.  After all, who is responsible for the defect in the aircraft’s manufacture or design that caused the crash? The company who sold the kit?  Or the guy who spent several years putting the kit together in his garage?  While some builders follow the kit maker’s directions to the letter, many do not, taking it upon themselves to modify at least some portion of the aircraft. That's allowed by regulations and seems to be part of the fun of building the aircraft.  For example, John Denver was killed years ago when the amateur-built aircraft he was piloting crashed off the California coast.  The amateur who put the kit together thought he had a better way of doing it and installed the aircraft fuel valve in a place other than as recommended by the kit's seller.  The NTSB ultimately determined that it was that modification that led to the crash. 

But even if the victim’s lawyer proves it was the kit maker, and not the builder, who was responsible for the defect, few kit makers carry insurance.  That means a verdict against the aircraft company may be impossible to collect.

Despite the hurdles, the family of the girl killed in the Toledo crash has filed suit against Van’s Aircraft Inc., blaming it for exploiting FAA “loopholes” that allow it to sell aircraft  that have not been properly tested and are thus unproven and unsafe.  The suit goes on to allege that

Not only are Van’s aircraft designs untested and unsafe, but its assembly instructions are also inadequate and unsafe.

The suit goes on to allege that the fuel flow transducer that Van's supplied with the kit was dangerous because it was not capable of dealing with a blockage, as would be required of on a fuel flow transducer mounted on a factory-built aircraft.

We can expect Van’s to argue that their experimental aircraft are just that – experimental.  They are not intended to have all the safety features included with factory-built aircraft.  That is why the word “experimental” is required by law to be prominently displayed inside each one.