Greene Broillet & Wheeler, LLP
Experimental aircraft accidents

News of an experimental aircraft crash that killed a family near the Sycamore Canyon Open Space Preserve has some people wondering: Are experimental aircraft safe?

The Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are investigating the small airplane accident and have yet to determine a cause. According to witnesses, however, it appeared that the plane was “spinning out of control,” which might indicate a mechanical failure.

“Experimental aircraft” is a classification that covers a wide variety of aircraft, including amateur-built aircraft, light-sport aircraft, aircraft in research and development, and exhibition aircraft.

Due to the growth in popularity of experimental amateur-built aircraft (E-AB aircraft), the National Transportation Safety Board has recently studied the aircraft. It found that, even though E-AB represent 10 percent of all U.S. aircraft, they account for 15 percent of all 2011 aviation accidents and 21 percent of fatal aviation accidents. The NHTSA has recommended that a number of actions be taken to increase the safety of these aircraft.

It is difficult, however, to point fingers at the cause of the E-AB aircraft accidents. The two main causes of accidents were loss of control in flight (sometimes caused by pilot error) and powerplant failures. While it may be possible to blame the owner for a mechanical failure, more than 50 percent of all E-AB aircrafts were built by someone other than the current owner.

Therefore, liability for an experimental aircraft accident largely depends on the facts of the case. Did the manufacturer fail to provide proper instruction to the E-AB builder? Did a previous owner improperly build the aircraft? Was the accident caused by pilot error? These are all questions that an aircraft accident lawyer can help answer.

Source: NBC7, “Family killed in lakeside plane crash,” Monica Garske, Dec. 30, 2012

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