The General Aviation Revitalization Act immunizes aircraft manufacturers from liability for defects in their products once those products turn 18 years old. GARA was enacted in 1994. Back then, more than half the general aviation fleet was older than 18 years.
In other words, in 1994, the manufacturers were allowed to "walk away" from the majority of the fleet they had produced, as well as any defects that they had built into them. But once relieved of that financial responsibility, the manufacturers were supposed to spring into action and start cranking out new aircraft at more affordable prices.
True, anyone injured by a defect in an older aircraft would be left without a legal remedy against the manufacturer that caused the injury. But GARA proponents argued that the flood of new piston aircraft would lead to the older aircraft being removed from service. In short order, GARA proponents argued, the average age of the aircraft in the fleet would drop and manufacturers would
once again be standing behind the majority of their fleet.
Of course, the flood of new, more affordable piston aircraft never materialized. Instead, manufacturers moved towards producing low volume — but highly profitable — jet aircraft. Even now, they turn out only a trickle of new piston aircraft each year. But it’s the piston aircraft that carry the vast majority of general aviation passengers. With no affordable replacements, the older piston aircraft continue in service. That means that each year the average age of the aircraft in the general aviation fleet increases. The way things are going, by 2025 the average age will reach 50 years.
How does the aging fleet affect the rights of those injured by defective aviation products? Adversely, of course. Each year a greater percentage of the general aviation fleet earns GARA "protection," allowing manufacturers to avoid responsibility for any injuries their defective products may have caused. And, according to Helland and Tabarrok (pdf) — two economists at the forefront of the tort reform movement — it appears that the trend will only continue.
Not exactly what we bargained for.