Aviation law consists of state, federal, and international laws created to regulate air travel. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is a United States agency that governs aircraft operation and the maintenance of aviation facilities. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is also charged with the responsibility of regulating air travel and investigating aviation accidents.
Types of Errors that Cause Aviation Accidents
There are various types of errors that can cause an aviation accident, such as:
- Flying in bad weather
- Pilot error
- Improper loading
- Maintenance errors
- Mechanical failure or defect
- Air controller errors
- Airplane design and construction errors
Agencies and Laws Governing Aviation
Federal Aviation Administration
The FAA is responsible for setting minimum safety standards for pilot conduct, air flights, and the manufacture of aircraft. The Federal Aviation Act and Regulations, found in the Code of Federal Regulations, delineate the aviation rules applicable to pilots.
The FAA regulates the air industry through various means. It has the power to impose and enforce criminal and civil penalties and to take administrative action against pilots and air carriers.
The federal government has preempted the field of aviation as it encompasses rates, routes or services of an air carrier authorized by the FAA to engage in interstate transportation. This means only the federal government is allowed to regulate the air industry in these areas. Thus, while an accident victim or his representative may sue in state court for an aviation accident, federal law plays a large part in determining how such claims may be resolved.
The primary federal laws governing aviation accidents and victims are the Federal Aviation Act and Regulations, the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act.
National Transportation Safety Board
The NTSB is charged with the duty of investigating an aviation accident and securing a crash scene. Plaintiffs sometimes consult with an aviation expert for review of the NTSB's reports and to obtain expert testimony regarding how and why an aviation accident occurred.
State laws provide redress for aviation accident victims through wrongful death and products liability law. An accident victim, his family member, or representative may sue for compensatory damages, that is damages that are reasonably related to the accident such as lost wages, medical expenses, and past and future pain and suffering. In some cases, non-economic damages, such as the deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship, are also recoverable. Punitive damages, money awards meant to act as a punishment and deterrent, may also be awarded.
The Warsaw Convention is the primary international law governing international aviation accidents. This international agreement limits the dollar amount a victim may recover from an aviation accident. While the Warsaw Convection presumes that an air carrier has caused an aviation accident, it also allows for certain air carrier defenses to liability. An accident victim, without proving carrier guilt, is entitled to $135,000.00 in monetary damages.
An international aviation accident victim cannot recover damages for any emotional injuries. Therefore, in order to recover, a physical injury or death must be proven.
Aviation accidents can arise from a variety of sources, such as pilot error, an airplane mechanical failure or defect, or air traffic controller negligence. Federal agencies and law set the safety standards applicable to aviation transportation. These agencies are charged with the duty of administering federal safety standards and regulations.
If a person is injured in an aviation accident, he may be entitled to recover damages under state, federal and international law. Damages may include compensatory damages such as pain and suffering, and noneconomic and punitive damages.