Scott has produced a paper for those interested in information about the way Covid-19 has impacted aviation, including the economic, structural, social, and litigation impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry.
You can download that paper here:
Scott has produced a paper for those interested in information about the way Covid-19 has impacted aviation, including the economic, structural, social, and litigation impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry.
You can download that paper here:
On June 9, 2022, Scott Brooksby served as the moderator for a distinguished panel of diverse aviation professionals who discussed the impact of Covid-19 on aviation, and the economic, social, operational, and litigation fallout. The 90 minute panel-discussion that Scott moderated was a segment of the American Bar Association International Aviation Litigation Institute held in Chicago. Scott was also the lead author of the supporting paper for the panel.
Key issues discussed are aircrew and passenger class actions against airlines; impact of aircraft manufacturing; airport operations; numerous complex insurance issues; and providing aviation sector clients with Covid-19-related legal advice to challenge the changing local, state, national and international regulations.
Scott Brooksby recently co-authored the article, “What Can Be Done About Pilot Depression, Suicide, and Other Flight Crew Mental Health Issues?” in a newsletter published by the American Bar Association, Mass Torts Litigation Section on November 9, 2017.
Mental health problems are nearing epidemic levels in the
developed world. According to the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC), suicide is the tenth leading cause of death and claims over
43,000 lives per year. Not surprisingly, if it is an issue in the
mainstream, you can bet it is a problem in the cockpit. It is true
that pilot mental fitness-and its connection to human factors
analysis-has always been a critical aspect of aviation safety, but
recent events suggest it is becoming even more important to
examine ways to identify mental health problems that may affect
pilot performance and safety in the cockpit. As Jet Blue founder
and former chief executive officer David Neeleman suggested,
“nobody ever thought about having to protect the passengers from
In truth, most pilots would readily acknowledge that while the use
of medications to help mitigate the effects of mental illnesses has
been a hot button issue in aviation for some time, actual
evaluation of mental and emotional fitness in connection with
medical certification and continuing monitoring for symptoms has
not been a priority for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or
flight surgeons. In addition, the reliance on self-reporting by pilots
as part of the medical certification process, as well as the
confidentiality that protects doctors from disclosure, has created a
dangerous dynamic in the cockpit that can make it difficult for
aviation authorities and commercial carriers to vet and identify
these dangers before it is too late. Add to these factors, the
compelling incentive for pilots to hide mental health issues for fear
of losing their jobs and you have little chance of ever identifying
the problem, let alone getting pilots the help they need.
This article explores these pressing issues and whether it is realistic to think that merely asking a pilot during a flight physical how he or she feels, or how is the family, or whether any issues are troubling you, etc., will trigger a response that will reveal a mental deficiency.
The Claims are Paid, Now What? Subrogation!
by Scott Brooksby
“Sir, it is wrong to stir up law-suits; but when once it is certain that a law-suit is to go on, there is nothing wrong in a lawyer’s endeavoring that he shall have the benefit, rather than another.” –Samuel Johnson
Subrogation is defined for present purposes as the substitution of one person in the place of another with respect to a lawful claim or right. Subrogation is the right that every insurance company reserves in all insurance policies to recover losses from a third-party who contributed to or caused the loss. It is one of the oldest concepts in jurisprudence. However, the doctrine is not well understood, even by lawyers and judges who may not deal with subrogation issues on a regular basis.
Webster’s defines subrogation as:
The assumption by a third party (such as a second creditor or an insurance company) of another’s legal right to collect a debt or damages
Subrogation in the aviation context has important implications for insurers and insureds. When markets are rising, most carriers make money on their investments. When markets are down, and especially when they crash, as they did in 2008 and 2009, carriers may lose money, in part because margins are somewhat limited by market performance. However, subrogation claims, when carefully evaluated and handled, provide carriers a right to recover dollars that may be easier to collect than premium dollars. Successful collection on subrogation claims may have significant impact on insurer financial performance. Insureds also benefit from effective subrogation claims because ever-increasing deductibles can be recovered and result in better loss history and lower rates.
Brief Historical Overview: Roman Origins
Subrogation, as a legal concept, dates back to Roman times. Under the reign of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-AD 138) Roman law began to shape the building blocks of subrogation. The relation of suretyship could be created by stipulation. Gary L. Wickert, The Societal Benefits of Subrogation https://www.mwl-law.com/defending-subrogation/. For broad historical perspective, see Saul Litvinoff, Subrogation, 50 La. L. Rev. (1990) http://digitalcommons.law.lsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5249&context=lalrev.
Although modern subrogation may have had its roots in Roman suretyship, scholars have generally noted that the Roman law required a more positive act to transfer rights before subrogation could occur. Therefore, many have raised the possibility that the modern doctrine arose somewhat independently of Roman and French antecedents as a purely English theory that seems to have had its origins in the courts of Equity. M.L. Marasinghe, An Historical Introduction to the Doctrine of Subrogation: The Early History of the Doctrine I, 10 Val U.L. Rev. 45 (1975).
Commenting on Roman equity, one scholar expressed a view that subrogation was unknown to the Romans in the context in which it appears in the common law today. In Roman law, “subrogate” was a well-known term of constitutional law, providing for the replacement of one official by another or replacing one official’s actions with another’s action. Id., at 46, citing W.W. Buckland, Equity in Roman Law, 47-54 (1911).
Of subrogation, Buckland further reasoned that
“The corresponding right in English law, at least in case of a surety, amounts to actual subrogation, and is declared to be based on natural justice, no attempt being made to deduce it from any defined principle.” Id., citing Buckland at 54.
Therefore, under English common law, no express transference of rights has been required. Marasinghe, supra, at 46.
Brief History: Anglo-American Subrogation
“I do think that Magna Carta and international law are worth paying some attention to”
Despite its ancient roots, modern subrogation is a distinct concept, bearing little resemblance to the Roman version. It appears that the concept of subrogation was formally incorporated into the English common law in the Magna Carta, which provides:
Neither We nor Our bailiffs shall seize any land or rent for any debt so long as the debtor’s chattels are sufficient to discharge the same; nor shall the debtor’s sureties be distrained so long as the debtor is able to pay the debt. If the debtor fails to pay, not having the means to pay, then the sureties shall answer the debt, and, if they desire, they shall hold the debtor’s lands and rents until they have received satisfaction of the debt which they have paid for him, unless the debtor can show that he has discharged his obligation to them. A.E. Dick Howard, Magna Carta, Text & Commentary 39 (rev. ed. 1998).
Although a complete historical analysis is far beyond the scope of this paper, the English judges linked subrogation to the equitable principle of contribution. Id., citing Pothier, Treatise on Obligation 259 (3d Amer. Ed. 1853). By 1782 the common law courts had recognized the doctrine of subrogation and were using it “as if it had always been part of the common law of England.” Marasinghe, at 49. In Mason v Sainsbury, 3 Doug. 61, 64, 99 Eng. Rep. 525 (1782), Lord Chief Justice Mansfield stated: “Every day, the insurer is put in the place of the insured. The insurer uses the name of the insured.” Id.
However, subrogation in the modern Anglo-American context has different meanings in different contexts. Modern subrogation can be generally categorized into three types:
Contractual subrogation, which is based on the contract between the parties such as subrogation language in an insurance policy. This is sometimes called “conventional subrogation”.
Equitable subrogation, sometimes called “legal subrogation,” is a product of equity. Equitable subrogation is not dependent on the existence of any contract assignment or privity. It arises by operation of law out of the fairness doctrine.
Statutory subrogation is a mechanism that gives a carrier a right to recover certain benefits. Statutory subrogation may arise in areas such as workers compensation, hospital liens, and Medicare among other things.
A typical subrogation clause in an aviation insurance contract may read: “If we pay a claim under your policy, we will take over your right to recover that amount from any other person or organization. You agree to cooperate with us and not to do anything that will interfere with our chances of recovery.”
The aviation industry is contract-intensive. Aviation-related contracts very often contain subrogation waivers in which each of the parties to the contract agrees to maintain its own insurance and also agrees to waive subrogation rights that may otherwise exist or arise with respect to insured losses. Waivers of subrogation most often apply to hull claims, but may sometimes be requested in product liability, airplane, airport, and hangar leases and pilot training.
A representative sample of a contractual subrogation waiver typically reads as follows:
“To the extent that any loss of any kind is covered or paid by any insurer, the contracting parties hereby waive subrogation or contribution rights against each other and their respective officers, agents and employees, and the contracting parties shall notify their respective insurers of this waiver of subrogation agreement and shall cause this waiver of subrogation agreement to be included in the insurance policies secured by each of the contracting parties.
A waiver of subrogation will result in the insurance carrier waiving the right to recover amounts paid under the policy from the person or entity that caused the loss. For example, a regional operator may contract with an FBO for pilot service. Before a flight, the FBO requires execution of a subrogation waiver against the FBO related to the pilot service. Assume further that the insurance company agrees to the waiver. On the flight, the pilot fails to lower the landing gear, causing significant damage. Without the waiver, the insurance company would have paid to repair the loss and then pursued a subrogation claim against the FBO’s insurance.
As a practical matter, failure to provide a requested waiver may result in a failure to obtain the desired contract. However, before executing a waiver, insureds should recognize that there are significant downsides:
The validity of waivers in aviation contracts has long been recognized. In Continental Manufacturing Corp. v. Underwriters at Lloyd’s of London, 185 Cal. App. 2d 545 (1960), the court held that an aviation insurer was not obligated to make a hull loss payment to its insured. The insured had executed an earlier lease agreement that had released the party responsible, and therefore improperly defeated the insurer’s right of subrogation.
Aircraft Financing and Subrogation Waivers
Aircraft financiers typically require a waiver of subrogation to protect themselves from any action by the airline’s insurers who, at common law, are subrogated to all rights which the insured may have against third-parties, including financiers. Rod D. Margo, Aspects of Insurance in Aviation Finance, 62 J. Air L. & Com. 423, 455 (1996). http://scholar.smu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1428&context=jalc
Under English law, a waiver of subrogation clause cannot be relied on by a person who is not a party to the insurance contract. Id., at 456, citing National Oilwell (U.K.) Ltd. v Davy Offhsore Ltd., (1993) 2 Lloyd’s rep. 582, 602-04 (Eng. Q.B.); Enimont Supply SA v. Chesapeake Shipping Inc. (the “Surf City”), (1995) 2 Lloyd’s Rep. 242 (Eng. Q.B.). Therefore, unless the financier has also been endorsed as an additional insured under the airline’s policy, a waiver of subrogation will likely be unenforceable for lack of privity of contract.
A waiver of subrogation is probably unnecessary where the financier is endorsed as an additional insured under the airline’s policy because the policies make it clear that an insurer cannot exercise any such rights of subrogation against their own insureds. Margo, supra, at 456.
Subrogation and the Non-Owner Pilot
Whether it is the owner or a lessor, some broad form of all-loss insurance is generally carried by the party that has the care, custody and control of the aircraft, and is responsible for maintaining the airworthiness of the aircraft and has dispatch authority. A non-owner pilot is the pilot named under the policy other than the owner, a pilot using the aircraft under the open pilot warranty or “permissive pilot” provision ,or a renter.
The insurance contract is an agreement between the insurer and the purchaser of the policy. Unless the pilot is an employee of the owner, he may be subject to a subrogation action. For this reason, as discussed above, many contract pilots and pilot service companies usually demand that the aircraft owner or named insured provide the contract pilot with a waiver of subrogation and status as an “additional insured” under the policy.
The Importance of Spoliation Considerations in Aviation Subrogation
Complex issues arise when the insurer elects to undertake a spoliation investigation. For example, physical evidence which may be critical to insured and uninsured losses may need to be collectively preserved. It may not even be clear which components or evidence in a subrogation claim relate to insured and uninsured losses for some time. At the outset, it is necessary to determine who is responsible for preservation of any relevant evidence. In most subrogation cases the plaintiff must preserve the evidence, but in aviation cases that responsibility generally falls to a potential defendant.
In aviation cases, preservation of evidence in subrogation cases is more complicated because the NTSB has complete authority to assume custody of evidence relevant to its investigation. . Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 1901 et. seq., the NTSB also has the ability to limit party participation status. See 49 C.F.R. § 831.11(a)(1).
Since the regulations also exclude persons who represent claimants or insurers from party status under 49 C.F.R. 831.11(a)(3), the NTSB and potential defendants typically have control of the investigation and the evidence during the important period between the time of the accident and the time the evidence is released to the owing party, often the hull insurer. The NTSB also prohibits lawyers or insurers or anyone whose role is the pursuit or defense of claims from participating in the process.
If the NTSB destroys, loses or otherwise is responsible for spoliation of the evidence, a lawsuit against the NTSB is precluded by the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act. See Black Hills Aviation Inc. v. United States, 34 F.3d 968, 976 (10th Cir. 1994).
The potential defendant manufacturers or other party participants to an NTSB accident investigation do not share the same protections or immunities. In Lowe v. TDU Industries, Inc., 2005 WL 1983750 (Cal. App 2d Dist. Aug. 18, 2005), an engine manufacturer lost the engine cylinders. The court ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to an inference instruction that the cylinders would have supported plaintiff’s theory. California, in particular, has created affirmative liability for spoliation of evidence. See, e.g., Johnson v. United Services Automobile Association, 79 Cal. Rptr. 2d 234 (1998).
The Made Whole Doctrine
Among the many subrogation doctrines which is not well understood, and which takes many different state-specific forms, is the made whole doctrine. A complete discussion of the made whole doctrine is far beyond the scope of this article.
Because subrogation may lead to adverse consequences for insureds, the common law developed the made whole doctrine which limits the use of subrogation before an insured party receives full compensation for damages. As one scholar notes, the made whole doctrine is the “principal weapon used by contemporary courts to curb the harsh effect of contractual subrogation on the rights of the insured.” Parker, Johnny C., The Made Whole Doctrine: Unraveling the Enigma Wrapped in the Mystery of Insurance Subrogation. Missouri Law Review, Vol. 70, 723, 723-775 (October, 2005) http://law.missouri.edu/lawreview/files/2012/11/Parker.pdf.
As originally developed, the made whole doctrine applied to subrogation, whether legal or conventional. Therefore, even where the insurer had paid all of the policy proceeds and included an expressed subrogation provision in the policy, the right to subrogation was stayed until the insured received complete compensation. Id., at 773.
However, many states have adopted a modified application of the made whole doctrine and have concluded that since the doctrine is of equitable origins and conventional subrogation is grounded upon a legal contract, the parties are free to agree that the rule does not apply. At least 14 jurisdictions have adopted a view that parties are free to agree that the made whole rule is inapplicable. Id.
The Anti-Subrogation Doctrine
Simply defined, the anti-subrogation doctrine provides that subrogation rights exist only as to third-parties. The doctrine is a defense which provides that since the insurance company is standing in the shoes of its insured, it cannot sue its own insured, in whose shoes it stands. The doctrine also prevents an insurer from pursuing a subrogation action against a third-party who qualifies as an additional insured. The rule implicates public policy considerations, including the prevention of suits by insurers against insureds to recover for the very losses for which they have paid for coverage in the form of premiums and the avoidance of conflicts of interest.
Aviation insurance is a specialty line of coverage, often involving very large risks and more complex underwriting issues than most types of insurance. As a result, there are fewer aviation insurers, and the anti-subrogation doctrine may come into play more often.
If the potential defendant in a subrogation action is an insured or an additional insured on the same policy of insurance, a carrier paying a property damage claim cannot subrogate against an insured or additional insured on the same policy.
If the potential target of a subrogation action and the party sustaining the loss are both insured under different policies with the same insurer, there is a split of authority.
If a plaintiff property insurance carrier and a separate liability insurance carrier have both provided policies of insurance to the defendant, the anti-subrogation rule generally does not apply and subrogation is generally permitted if the companies are both members of the same family or group of companies.
Warranty Limitations That May Affect Subrogation Claims
Few lawyers enjoy working through situations that require analysis of the application of the economic loss rule. Although a complete discussion of the rule is far beyond the scope of this paper, it can be defined simply as the prohibition of the recovery of damages under tort theories such as negligence or strict liability when a product defect results in only economic loss, but does not cause personal injury or damage to any other property other than the product. For a detailed explanation of the economic loss rule see Jamie Mayrose, “A “Simple” Explanation of the Economic Loss Rule”, Under Construction, Vol. 17, No. 3, Winter, 2016. https://www.americanbar.org/publications/under_construction/2016/winter2016/economic_loss_rule.html
In its application, the economic loss rule precludes contracting parties from asserting tort causes of action as a means to recover economic or commercial losses arising out of a contract, and precludes a purchaser of a product from recovering from a manufacturer on a tort theory for damages that are solely economic.
The economic loss doctrine has implications in the context of aviation subrogation. In general, the economic loss doctrine applies to bar recovery if an allegedly defective part is part of the original bargain when an aircraft was purchased. However, if the replacement part is not part of the original sale, the economic loss rule does not bar tort claims. This is important in the context of aviation where contractual defenses such as warranty disclaimers and limitations of liability may severely restrict the ability to recover under contract theories.
The following warranty limitation is representative of the type of clause typically contained in many types of aviation-related contracts such as overhaul facilities:
Limited Warranty for Services and Components: _________ warrants that the services performed hereunder will comply with applicable FAA regulations in effect as of the date the work is performed (as interpreted by the FAA office having jurisdiction over the facility at which the work is performed) and will be free from defects in workmanship and material, including new components manufactured by ________, under normal use for one (1) year and for ninety (90) days on used components refurbished by ________ from date of installation. The warranty on all other new and used components shall be limited to the warranty provided by the supplying manufacturer or vendor, if any. This warranty does not apply to (i) normal wear and tear, (ii) the consequences of accident, negligence, abuse or misuse, or of repair, removal, reinstallation or alteration other than by ___________ and (iii) to Customer furnished parts or equipment or to work which, at Customers direction, was not performed in accordance with ____________ standard operating procedures. The sole and exclusive remedy of Customer, and ___________ sole and exclusive liability, with respect to this warranty is limited to repair or replacement (at _____________ option) of the nonconforming or defective work or component. Such repair or replacement shall be performed at a ___________ facility and Customer shall be responsible for transportation costs. THE FOREGOING WARRANTY IS IN LIEU OF, AND THE CUSTOMER HEREBY WAIVES, ALL OTHER WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR USE.
Limitation of Liability: In no event shall ___________ be liable for any special, incidental, consequential and/or punitive damages, including, without limitation, loss of profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use, loss of time, diminution of value, or inconvenience, even if informed of the possibility of such damages. In the event _________ physically damages Customer’s property, Customer’s sole and exclusive remedy, and ____________ sole and exclusive liability, is limited to the repair or replacement (at ______________ option) of the damaged portion of the property.
As the representative limited warranty and limitations of liability provisions above make clear, pursuit of subrogation claims for the full award of damages which would be recoverable in the absence of such limitation provisions becomes much more questionable.
In addition to many other important subrogation principles, subrogation in the aviation context requires particularly careful economic evaluation, and budgeting. Both pursuing and defending aviation subrogation cases in an economically rational manner requires careful adherence to litigation budgets.
The economics of aviation subrogation and the efficient pursuit of the intended economic offset or recovery, or the successful defense of a subrogation claim both require careful assessment of the potential recovery, the technical issues associated with proving causation, the impact of NTSB investigations and the other logistics of the potential claim, such as location of the wreckage, discovery, and witnesses.
In addition, the economics which may drive whether or not to pursue or defend a subrogation claim in the aviation context will be influenced by factors such as subrogation waivers, aircraft financing contracts, the made whole doctrine, complex conflict and ethical issues, and even the variations on policies covering pilots.
On December 5, 2016, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania denied the appeal of a trial court decision to grant a forum non conveniens motion to dismiss claims brought by European family members following a fatal plane crash. The court rejected the idea that plaintiffs’ choice of forum should be given “overwhelming deference.” The court also appears to have adopted an approach favoring the qualitative comparison of categories of evidence available in the U.S. and in the alternative foreign forum. Bochetto, et al., v Dimeling, Schreiver & Park, et al., 2016 PA Super 272, Lexis 729 (Dec. 5, 2016).
The case arose from the crash of a twin-engine Piper PA-34-220T Seneca V on September 15, 2009 near Castro Verde, Portugal. The aircraft, which was manufactured by Piper Aircraft in Florida, crashed during a nighttime training exercise, killing the three occupants including a Spanish flight instructor, a student pilot who was a Dutch citizen, and a student pilot with dual Dutch-Australian citizenship. The case was initially filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. The plaintiffs alleged claims based on strict products liability, negligence, breach of express and implied warranties, fraud and civil conspiracy against 14 defendants, all of whom were located in the United States.
The manufacturer and some defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute recognizing the doctrine of forum non conveniens, Pa.C.S. § 5322(e). Defendants argued that the aircraft was maintained in Portugal, the pilot was trained in Portugal, the underlying accident occurred in Portugal, the Portuguese government conducted the accident investigation, and all of the non-party witnesses and relevant documents were in Portugal, all of the decedents were from Europe, and the real parties in interest were from Europe. The plaintiffs opposed the motion, countering that all the evidence related to the design and manufacture of the aircraft was located in the United States, the negligence claims against the foreign defendants were untenable, and the flight school had a strong presence in the United States.
The trial court granted the motion, and the plaintiffs appealed. Citing Pennsylvania law and Piper Aircraft Co. v. Reyno, 454 U.S. 235, 257–58 (1981), The Superior Court of Pennsylvania held that the trial court erred when it limited its discussion to those forum non conveniens factors that were specific to Pennsylvania, and did not address the network of connections to the United States as a whole. 2016 PA Super 272, Lexis 729 at *6.
The plaintiffs argued that they were due greater deference in their choice of forum in this case because “the choice was between Portugal, where no defendant or plaintiff is located, and the United States where all of the defendants reside, where the evidence supporting plaintiffs’ claims is maintained, and where the misconduct causing the accident occurred.” 2016 PA Super 272, Lexis 729 at *17.
The appellate court reasoned that although the plaintiffs were correct that their home countries of Spain, the Netherlands, and Australia may not present the most convenient forums, that did not mean that plaintiffs had “free choice” of any other forum since in a global case such as this, no one jurisdiction may stand out as convenient. The trial court was required to give some deference but not overwhelming deference to plaintiffs’ choice of forum.
The court analyzed the trial court’s methodology in balancing public and private interests, and noted that the trial court did conclude that some items weighed in favor of an American forum. For example, evidence relating to aircraft design, original and subsequent American owners, and maintenance before the plane was sold to a European company were all located in the United States. The appellate court looked approvingly on the trial court’s comparison of the availability of other categories of evidence, such as the location of evidence related to more recent aircraft maintenance and pilot error in Portugal. The more relevant evidence was the documentation of maintenance and upkeep after the aircraft was sold to the Belgian company that leased it to the Portuguese flight school. By engaging in such a qualitative assessment of the evidence and its importance, rather than merely counting up items in a list, the appellate court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion and affirmed the dismissal of plaintiffs’ case. 2016 PA Super 272, Lexis 729 at * 22.
Hot topics in aviation litigation include birds, pets, lasers, and stowaways. Each pose the danger of catastrophic mass torts.
Bird and animal strikes pose an increasing danger to commercial, military and general aviation. Strikes result in death and serious injury to passengers and crew, and soaring costs for aircraft damage. Bird strikes are the second leading cause of death in aviation accidents.
According to Boeing, the first bird strike was recorded by the Wright Brothers in 1905. The greatest loss of life directly linked to a bird strike occurred on October 4, 1960, when a Lockheed L-188 flying as Eastern Air Lines Flight 375, flew through a flock of common starlings during take-off from Logan Airport, damaging all four engines. The plane crashed into Boston harbor killing 62 of the 72 passengers on board. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2011_q3/4/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Other major bird strike incidents include:
Boeing has compiled extensive data on bird strikes:
http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2011_q3/4/. (Last visited 4/19/16). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/10/131108-aircraft-bird-strikes-faa-radar. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Factors Contributing to the Rise in Bird Strikes
Population Management Techniques
In January, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson River after both engines ingested Canada geese. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared war on geese. Suzanne Goldenberg, New York Declares War on Geese to Prevent Airport Bird Strikes, The Guardian (June 12, 2009) http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/jun/12/new-york-geese-cull. (Last visited 4/19/16). A mayoral steering committee gave approval to the USDA to cull geese in a 450 mile area encompassing JFK, LaGuardia and Newark airports. Principal methods of population control include:
http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2011_q3/4/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Potential Liability for Airport Operators
Airport managers must exercise due diligence in managing wildlife hazards to avoid serious liability issues. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations requires Part 139-certificated airports experiencing hazardous wildlife conditions as defined in 14 C.F.R. Section 139.337 to conduct formal Wildlife Hazard Assessments. The certificated airports must develop Wildlife Hazard Management Plans as part of the certification standards. Airports are required to employ professional biologists trained in wildlife hazard management. 14 C.F.R. Section 139.337 and FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-36. Failure to comply with the regulations can give rise to liability for airport operators. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/airline_safety/pdfs/Summary%20Report%20WS%20Airport%20Wildlife%20Hazards%20Program%20FY%2008.pdf. (Comprehensive overview of applicable regulations and methods, last visited 4/19/16).
The USDA’s Airport Wildlife Hazards Program plays a leading role in the supervision and management of wildlife strikes with aircraft. Wildlife challenges are by no means limited to birds. Airports across the country are struggling with wildlife management. http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/hunting-fishing/2016/01/17/Keeping-wildlife-off-tarmac-is-big-job-at-Pittsburgh-International-Airport/stories/201601170140. (Last visited 4/19/16).
In addition to reports of aircraft strikes involving nearly 500 bird species, other wildlife strikes reported during the last decade involved nearly 100 terrestrial animals including mongoose, bears, badgers, moose, pigs, burros, horses, and even camels, in addition to 137 reptile strikes.
For additional background information, see “Wildlife Strikes to Civil Aircraft in the United States, 1990-2001”, United States Department of Agriculture, Federal Aviation Administration, United States Department of Agriculture, July, 2012. Report published for the Federal Aviation Administration Office of Airport Safety and Standards. https://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/wildlife/resources/media/bash90-11.pdf. (Last visited 4/19/16). http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/pdf/bird-enthusiasts/birdstrikes.pdf. (Alternate link, last visited 4/19/16).
Regulations for Aircraft and Engine Manufacturers
In response to the Eastern Airlines crash in Boston in 1960 mentioned above, The FAA issued Advisory Circular 33-1 “Turbine Engine Foreign Object Ingestion and Rotor Blade Containment Type Certification Procedures,” which provided guidance for compliance with FAA regulations §3313 and §3319 requiring that engine design minimize unsafe condition. For additional information on the scope of required fan and engine construction, see Christopher Demers, “Large Air Transport Jet Engine Design Considerations for Large and for Flocking Bird Encounters”, DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln (2009). http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1005&context=birdstrike2009. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Aircraft Wheel Well Stowaways and Potential Mass Torts
In recent years, wheel well stowaways have received increasing media attention and public interest. Statistics on the manner of death and the factors that keep stowaways alive are not precise, and there are differing standards for investigation internationally.
Many, if not most, of these incidents arise from the unfortunate political, social, economic or family circumstance of the stowaway. However, assuming the physiological obstacles of hypothermia and hypoxia are overcome, one major question remains: What legal implications are raised if a stowaway with destructive intent caused a major tragedy?
Usually a stowaway jumps into an aircraft by hanging on to the airliner’s landing gear as the plane takes off, or climbs into the gear compartment before takeoff. The force of the wind can easily make a stowaway fall to his or her death. Alternatively, many stowaways are crushed in the confined space of the compartment when the gear is retracted. Others appear to have died from the heat produced by the engines of the aircraft, or fallen while unconscious when the gear is extended. The overwhelming majority of stowaways are young males.
According to the FAA, the first recorded case of an aircraft stowaway occurred on June 13, 1929. The Bernard monoplane Oiseau Canari, piloted by Frenchmen Assollant Lefevre, had trouble taking off in spite of its powerful Hispano Suiza engine. The crew later discovered the cause of the problem: a stowaway on board. Despite the overload, the plane landed in Spain after 22 hours of flight. http://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/ang/offices/tc/about/campus/faa_host/rdm/media/pdf/fy2011rdannualreview.pdf. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Physiological threats for a stowaway are minimal at altitudes up to 8,000 feet, but at higher altitudes reduced atmospheric pressure and partial pressure of oxygen may have deleterious effects. At all cruising altitudes, the partial pressure of oxygen in a wheel well cannot sustain consciousness. Additionally, at altitudes of about 20,000 feet, stowaways may develop decompression sickness. Id.
All of the scientific research suggests that, after takeoff, a stowaway faces two life-threatening conditions during flight: hypoxia and hypothermia. In 1993, the fatality of a 19-year old who stowed away in the wheel-well of a plane bound from Colombia to JFK was one of the 13 wheel-well stowaway flights documented in a report by the U.S. FAA, Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI), and Flight Safety Foundation as having frozen to death. (FSF). https://www.faa.gov/data_research/research/med_humanfacs/oamtechreports/1990s/media/AM96-25.pdf . http://flightsafety.org/hf/hf_may-jun97.pdf . (Last visited 4/19/16).
Some experts suggest that survival rates in young people may be higher because their brains more readily approach to a “virtual hibernative state,” where their bodies become temporarily more adaptable to trauma. http://time.com/70441/how-the-teen-stowaway-survived-his-trans-pacific-flight-in-a-wheel-well/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
According to the FAA, from 1947-2014 there have been 94 flights involving 105 people who stowed away worldwide. Of those 105 people, 80 died and twenty-five survived. The twenty-five people who survived represent a 23.8 percent survival rate.
In 2014 a sixteen-year-old California boy jumped a fence at San Jose International Airport and squeezed into the wheel-well of a flight bound for Maui, where he emerged 5 hours later, in good health. Experts surmised that the teen’s youth could be an advantage, as the brains of young people adapt more easily to hypothermia and hypoxia, for reasons that are not completely understood. http://khon2.com/2014/04/20/fbi-investigating-stowaway-of-hawaiian-airlines-flight/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Similarly, in June, 2015, a 21-year old Indonesian man hid in the wheel well of a Garuda Indonesia flight from Sumatra to Jakarta. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/08/stowaway-survives-flight-indonesia_n_7023396.html. (Last visited 4/19/16).
There may be a number of consequences of security breaches by aircraft wheel well stowaways and their on-board actions, despite the present physiological obstacles. Among these include:
Wheel well stowaway events appear to be on the rise, and each event is highly publicized. However, these events have not resulted in widespread litigation. The only litigated case brought by the family of a stowaway involved sixteen-year-old Delvonte Tisdale. Tisdale ran away from home on November 14th, 2010. A day later his body was found mangled in a Boston suburb. Authorities determined that Tisdale likely sneaked onto the tarmac of Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and climbed into the wheel well of US Airways Flight 1176, bound for Boston.
Tisdale’s family sued US Airways, The airport, and the City of Charlotte alleging that the defendants negligently failed to ensure people could not access restricted areas. Among the failure to warn claims was an allegation that the defendants failed to warn of the dangers of entering an aircraft as a passenger through the wheel well.
The judge ultimately disagreed with Tisdale’s family and dismissed the case. Siding with Charlotte City Attorney Robert Hagemann, the judge ruled in July, 2013 that Tisdale was negligent in his actions and that the city is not responsible for people who breach security. http://boston.cbslocal.com/2013/03/07/judge-dismisses-suit-filed-by-family-of-airplane-stowaway-delvonte-tisdale/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
The breach of security in the Tisdale case raised questions about airport security. If a 16-year-old, who had never flown before could evade airport security measures, then why not a terrorist? With the proliferation of wheel well stowaways, it is likely only a matter of time until a tragic mass tort occurs.
Aircraft Laser Strikes
Reports of aircraft targeting with handheld ground lasers have been rising sharply. In 2006, there were 384 reported incidents. By 2014, there were 3,894 reported incidents. In 2015, there were 7,702 reported incidents. The FAA has recorded approximately 22 aircraft laser strikes per day in 2016. https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=15774 (Last visited 4/19/16). https://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/laws/. (Last visited 4/19/16). https://www.justice.gov/usao-edca/pr/bakersfield-man-sentenced-striking-sheriff-s-helicopter-laser (Last visited 4/19/16). https://www.justice.gov/usao-edca/pr/bakersfield-resident-sentenced-pointing-laser-kern-county-sheriff-helicopter. (Last visited 4/19/16).
In a widely publicized recent incident, a Virgin Atlantic flight originating at Heathrow bound for New York with 252 passengers on board was forced to turn back after a flight crew “medical issue” was caused by a laser strike shortly after takeoff. http://.bbc.com/news/uk-35575861. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Exposure to laser illumination may cause hazardous effects such as pain, watery eyes, headaches, flash-blindness, distraction or disorientation, loss of depth perception, and aborted takeoffs or landings, in addition to danger during lower level flight.
In the United States, an area with high numbers of laser strikes is the 34 counties encompassed within the United States Judicial District for the Eastern District of California, a judicial district which has been vigorously prosecuting laser strike offenders and securing a large number of convictions resulting in prison sentences and fines. (Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Sacramento, San Antonio, and San Juan all have high incidence of laser strikes.) As recently as March 7, 2016, that office secured a guilty plea from a thirty-five year-old man with a powerful green laser, about the size of a flashlight in his pocket. The man pleaded guilty to multiple strikes on a California State Highway Patrol airplane. https://www.justice.gov/usao-edca/pr/clovis-man-pleads-guilty-laser-strikes-chp-plane (Last visited 4/19/16).
The increase in reports of ground based lasers targeting flying aircraft may be due to a number of factors, including the increased availability of inexpensive laser devices on the internet, higher power lasers which can strike aircraft at higher altitudes, and increased reporting by flight crews. Regulatory power for laser light products is delegated to the FDA, and its regulations are found at 21 C.F.R. § 1010.
While some jurisdictions have made interdiction efforts using helicopters and other improved tracking methods, catching laser offenders is difficult. The devices are small, and when extinguished can be easily concealed and the location of the user can be in sparsely populated areas. To respond to the increasing attacks, the FAA launched the Laser Safety Initiative, which provides education on laser hazards and events, news, law and civil penalties, and encourages reporting.
The latest reports indicate that aircraft illuminations by handheld lasers involve green lasers rather than red. This is significant because green lasers are 35 times brighter than red, and the wavelength of green lasers is close to the eye’s peak sensitivity when they are dark-adapted. FAA flight simulation studies have shown that the adverse visual effects from laser exposure are especially debilitating when the eyes are adapted to the low-light level of a cockpit at night. http://www.faa.gov/pilots/safety/pilotsafetybrochures/media/laser_hazards_web.pdf. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Restricted airspace surrounding commercial airports, in particular, can provide federal, state and/or local criminal penalties for violation with a laser, even if the operator is not operating the laser within the space, but merely causes the beam to intersect the controlled airspace to target an aircraft. In the United States, laser airspace guidelines can be found in FAA Order JO 7400.2 (Revision “G” as of April 2008). Chapter 29 of the Order provides a comprehensive overview of the FAA’s laser guidelines.
In 2011, the FAA announced plans to impose civil penalties against people, including the parents of juveniles, who point a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft. http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=12765. (Last visited 4/19/16). The maximum administrative penalty is a fine of $11,000.
The FAA released a legal interpretation which concluded that directing a laser bean into an aircraft cockpit could interfere with a flight crew performing its duties while operating an aircraft, a violation of FAA regulations. http://www.faa.gov/news/media/Laser%20Memorandum%20Final%20060111.pdf. (Last visited 4/19/16). The FAA conducted an analysis of 14 C.F.R. § 91.11 which provides that, “[n]o person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmember’s duties aboard an aircraft being operated.” However, the FAA standard for liability is higher than the standard for criminal liability under 18 U.S.C. §§ 32 and 39A.
Federal regulations prohibiting interference with a crewmember in the performance of their duties had initially been adopted in response to hijackings. However, the FAA legal interpretation concluded that nothing in the regulation specified that the person interfering must be on the airplane. Previously, the FAA had taken enforcement action only against passengers on-board the aircraft that interfere with crewmembers. The maximum civil penalty is $11,000. By June, 2012, the FAA had initiated 28 enforcement actions. http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=13555. (Last visited 4/19/16).
On February 14, 2012, President Obama signed Public Law 112-95. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, Section 311 amended Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C) Chapter 2 § 39, by adding § 39A, which makes it a federal crime to aim a laser pointer at an aircraft. http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/lasers/laws/. (Last visited 4/19/16). Prior to 2012, federal prosecutions of laser illuminations of aircraft were initiated pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 32(a)(5), which prohibits interference with the safe operation of an aircraft. Aiming a laser at an aircraft is also prohibited by many state laws.
Between 2005 and 2013, there were 17,725 reported laser strikes in the United States, resulting in 134 arrests. This data suggests that even when limiting the calculation to reported incidents, there is only a 0.75 percent chance of getting caught; a percentage that would decrease if unreported incidents were also considered. There were 80 convictions among the 134 arrests. One reason for the conviction rate of 60 percent is that some who were arrested were minors who were never formally charged. http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/05/blinding-light-the-us-crackdown-on-not-so-harmless-laser-strikes/3/. (Last visited 4/19/16).
One high-profile case involved Sergio Rodriguez, who received a 14-year prison sentence after he was convicted of lasing police and medical helicopters in August, 2012. Karen Escobar, the Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California who prosecuted the Escobar case, has pursued more cases against laser perpetrators than any other federal prosecutor. Escobar was quoted as saying:
“At sentencing, [Rodriguez] did not accept responsibility for his actions; he blamed his 2- and 3- year-old children. I believe the evidence showed the laser was a dangerous weapon, and there was intention, supporting a guideline sentence of 168 months. I would not call it harsh. I would say it is a penalty that fits the crime, but I believe that it will have a deterrent effect, and I hope it will.” Id.
The Ninth Circuit has since reversed Rodriguez’ conviction for violation of 18 U.S.C. § 32 and remanded for resentencing for the Section 39A violation. The Ninth Circuit found that the evidence did not support proof of the willfulness requirement for a Section 32 violation, noting that Section 32 was intended to apply to the bin Ladens of the world, not knuckleheads like Rodriguez. On remand, the district court imposed the maximum penalty of five years for the Section 32 violation.
Much of the current focus on laser strikes focuses on interdiction and criminal prosecution. The potential for a laser beam disabling a flight crew, and resulting in a mass tort, creates civil liability questions which have yet to be resolved.
Animal Passengers: Is it a Pet, a Service Animal, an Emotional Support Animal, Or Something Else, and Does It Get a Ride?
Walking through any large airport in 2016, it is likely that departing and arriving passengers will see any number of animals and a wide variety of species, shapes, and sizes. Dogs, cats, birds, rodents, reptiles, pigs and even miniature horses are all found in airports waiting to board. The distinction between service animals, companion animals, emotional support animals, and pets may not always be clear.
Transport of service animals, including emotional support animals is governed by the Air Carrier Access Act (“ACAA”), 49 U.S.C. § 41705 (1986), which incorporates provisions consistent with the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 USC § 126 (1990). In contrast to service animals, transport of pets is generally done for an additional fee, which can be significant. Transportation of pets is generally governed by airline and airport policy, so long as policy is consistent with FAA, TSA, USDA and DOT rules and regulations. This can lead to arguably conflicting policies and practices by airports and carriers.
Animals and the Air Carrier Access Act
The ACAA prohibits discrimination by U.S. and foreign air carriers on the basis of physical or mental disability. In 1990, the U.S. Department of Transportation promulgated the official regulations implementing the ACAA. Those rules mandate nondiscrimination on the basis of disability in air travel. 14 CFR Part 382.
The implementation regulations in Part 832, and guidance publications prepared by DOT provide guidance for airline employees and people with disabilities in understanding and applying the ACAA and the provisions of Part 382 with respect to service animals in determining:
(1) whether an animal is a service animal and its user a qualified individual with a disability;
(2) how to accommodate a qualified person with a disability with a service animal in the aircraft cabin; and
(3) when a service animal legally can be refused carriage in the cabin.
The 1996 DOT ACAA guidance manual defines a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If the animal meets this definition, it is considered a service animal regardless of whether it has been licensed or certified by a state or local government.” “Guidance Concerning Service Animals in Air Transportation,” (61 FR 56420-56422, (November 1, 1996)).
In 2003, DOT clarified the previous definition of service animal by making it clear that animals that assist persons with disabilities by providing emotional or psychiatric support qualify as service animals. The definition of service animal was modified to clarify that airlines had authority to require that passengers provide documentation of the individual’s disability and the medical necessity of the passenger’s travel with the animal in cases involving emotional support animals and psychiatric service animals
The DOT has continued to update the guidance materials. Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Air Travel, 73 FR 27614, May 13, 2008 as modified by: Correction Notice of 74 FR 11469, March 18, 2009, Correction Notice of 75 FR 44885, July 30, 20010. http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/rules/Part%20382-2008.pdf. (Last visited 4/19/16).
Also of note in the DOT guidance materials:
In one recent case, a Washington State trial court analyzed the requirements of the ACAA as applied to an injury to a passenger caused by a Rottweiler service dog. Sullivan v. Alaska Air Group, Inc., et al., Spokane County Case No. 15-02-00227-3, February 29, 2016. Defendant owner of the Rottweiler was initially seated in back of the plane, but moved to row one to accommodate the size of the dog. Plaintiff was seated in row two. On arrival in Spokane, the dog allegedly bit plaintiff’s hand as she disembarked.
Plaintiff contended the airline had a duty to protect her and that the animal posed a foreseeable risk. The airline argued that the ACAA preempted, either through conflict or field preemption, the plaintiff’s claims. In conducting a preemption analysis, the court noted that airline passenger safety in regards to service animal is pervasively regulated by the ACAA sufficient to find that federal law expressly preempts and state standards of care.
The court granted the airline’s motion for summary judgement based on ACAA preemption. The court noted that the requirements of 14 C.F.R. § 382.117 did not preclude the Rottweiler from riding on the plane. The airline established, in satisfaction of the statutory requirements that the animal was, in fact, a service animal and they also determined that the animal did not present either a direct threat to the health and safety of others or a significant threat to the disruption of airline service. Evidence was presented that the dog flew on the carrier or its partners twelve times previously without incident. Finally, there were harness markings or other credible assurances provided to establish that the dog was a service animal.
Animals present airlines and airports with a minefield of compliance, liability, public relations and customer service issues which range from fundamental flight safety, to combating abuses of the ACAA in order to obtain free plane tickets for pets. In many cases, it may come down to a judgment call about whether the animal can safely be accommodated, or whether it will disrupt, or even endanger the flight. Airlines also face very high fines for failing to accommodate legitimate service animal accommodation requests.
In January, 2016, a passenger brought a live turkey onto a Delta Airlines flight, claiming the animal was needed for emotional support. Delta noted that the passenger had complied with the rigorous requirements of the ACAA which included providing documentation from a mental health professional that the animal’s companionship was necessary for travel.
Delta’s spokesperson noted that any therapist can sign off on any kind of animal, however, snakes, spiders and farm poultry are not acceptable. Animals allowed to board as service or emotional support animals under the ACAA are accommodated free of charge, and are not allowed to block emergency exits or occupy seats designed for passengers. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/15/someone-just-used-a-federal-law-to-bring-a-live-turkey-on-a-delta-flight/. (Last visited 4/19/16). http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/turkeys-sitting-planes-emotional-support-animals-article-1.2496248. (Last visited 4/19/16).
On June 1, 2016, Scott Brooksby was featured as a speaker and moderator on a panel entitled “Birds, Pets, Lasers, Stowaways, and Other Hot Topics in Aviation”, at the American Bar Association’s 22nd Annual National Institute on Aviation Litigation, at the University Club of New York in New York, New York.
Scott and the other distinguished panelists provided an overview of emerging security issues for airlines, airports, manufacturers, and governments with respect to bird and animal strikes, laser strikes, and wheel well stowaways. Each pose the danger of catastrophic mass torts. The topics discussed included the following issues:
• Bird strikes are the second-leading cause of death in aviation, with more than 400 deaths globally. Learn about required airport wildlife management plans and mitigation techniques, and how airports and the government can address liability risks.
• Flight crews are increasingly targets of inexpensive, and increasingly powerful hand-held green lasers. More than 7,000 laser strikes were reported to the FAA in 2015. This panel will discuss efforts by prosecutors pursuing criminal charges, and liability issues arising from laser strikes.
• Pigs, snakes and turkeys are just some of the pets, or emotional support animals, that airlines are confronting. The safety of other passengers, who may be the victims of physical injury of property damage, present liability issues for airports and airlines.
• The number of wheel well stowaway incidents are rising which poses security risks for airports and airlines, and it is not inconceivable that the stowaway with destructive intent could cause a catastrophic mass tort.
Scott Brooksby spoke on a panel in New York, NY at the American Conference Institute’s 8th Annual Forum on Defending and Managing Aviation Claims and Litigation. His panel was entitled “SPOTLIGHT ON FLIGHT CREW MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES Post-Germanwings: An In Depth Discussion of the Legal, Regulatory, Public Safety and Ethical Considerations”. On June 27, 2016, Scott and other distinguished panelists spoke on the following topics:
• An in depth discussion of aeromedical
issues and developments following last year’s
• What procedures are currently in place
to identify mental health issues in pilots,
crew-members, air traffic controllers? —
Are they enough?
• Who should be in possession of a
crew-member’s mental health information?
• Who has what responsibilities to make reports
of other crew-members’ mental health info?
• Who regulates this?
• Assessing considerations of confidentiality
with considerations of public safety
• Under what circumstances can medical data
be shared and with whom?
• What strides is the FAA taking in response to
the Germanwings tragedy? (ARC and Amsis)
• Addressing current issues and challenges related to:
– Awareness and reporting of emotional
and mental health issues
– Methods used to evaluate pilot emotional
and mental health
– Barriers to reporting such issues
– Surveillance and oversight of designees and
aviation industry substance-abuse programs
• A discussion of the ethical challenges and
considerations, and how to best navigate them
Scott Brooksby was a featured speaker on a panel discussing District Litigation after Air France 447. Scott was invited to speak at the 3rd Annual Western Regional CLE Program on Class Actions and Mass Torts for the Bar Association of San Francisco. The conference took place in San Francisco, California on May 27, 2016.
Scott and other distinguished panelists discussed the interesting substantive, procedural, and strategic considerations for airlines and other types of manufacturers seeking dismissal in forum non conveniens motions, and for passengers and other plaintiffs seeking to defeat FNC motions in multi-district litigation. Using examples from aviation-related MDLs, and specifically after the groundbreaking MDL involving Air France 447, the panel discussed key aspects of establishing personal jurisdiction over foreign corporate defendants. The panel discussed the complex issues associated with international treaties, choice-of-law, the meaning of an “unavailable forum” and challenging jurisdiction and venue considerations that arise when both U.S. and foreign individuals
Moderator: Ann C. Taylor, Locke Lord LLP, Chicago, IL
Panelists: Scott Brooksby, Olson Brooksby, Portland, OR Thad Dameris, Arnold & Porter, Houston, TX
Steve Koh, Perkins Coie LLP, Seattle, WA
Steve Marks, Podhurst Orseck, P.A., Miami, FL
From Scott Brooksby’s article, “Bird Strikes and Aviation: Facts and Fault” published in the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts Practice Points on December 7, 2015:
Bird strikes are an increasing danger to commercial aviation and result in death and serious injury to passengers and crew, and soaring costs for aircraft damage.
According to Boeing, the first bird strike was recorded by the Wright Brothers in 1905. Now, aircraft-wildlife strikes are the second leading cause of aviation-related fatalities. Globally these strikes have killed over 400 people and destroyed more than 420 aircraft. In addition to birds, wildlife strikes have been reported involving horses, antelope, moose and many other mammals.
Potential Liability for Airport Operators
The USDA’s Airport Wildlife Hazards Program plays a leading role in the supervision and management of aircraft-wildlife strikes. The USDA notes that airport managers must exercise due diligence in managing wildlife hazards to avoid serious liability issues. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations requires that Part 139-certificated airports experiencing hazardous wildlife conditions as defined in 14 C.F.R. section 139.337 to conduct formal wildlife hazard assessments. The certificated airports must develop wildlife hazard management plans as part of the certification standards. Airports are required to employ professional biologists trained in wildlife-hazard management. (14 C.F.R. § 139.337 and FAA Advisory Circular 150/5200-36). Failure to comply with the regulations can give rise to liability for airport operators.
According to Boeing, the relevant wildlife-strike facts include:
1. More than 219 people have been killed as a result of bird strikes since 1988.
2. Between 1990 and 2009, bird and small and large mammal strikes have cost U.S. civil aviation $650 million per year.
3. The Air Force sustains about $333 million dollars in damage per year due to bird strikes.
4. About 5,000 bird strikes were reported by the Air Force in 2012.
5. About 9,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for U.S civil aircraft in 2009.
6. The FAA has identified 482 species of birds involved in strikes from 1990-2012.
Factors Contributing to the Rise in Bird Strikes
1. The North American non-migratory Canada goose population increased from 1 million birds in 1990 to 4 million birds in 2009. Concentrations are particularly high at JFK airport and surrounding regions, with the ample grass and wetlands, but populations of various sizes are found near airports across the country.
2. A 12-pound Canada goose struck by an airplane moving at 150 miles per hour during takeoff generates the kinetic energy of a 1000 pound weight dropped from a height of ten feet.
3. Nesting populations of bald eagles increased from 400 pairs in 1970 to 13,000 pairs in 2010. Between 1990 and 2009, 125 bald eagle strikes were reported. The body mass of a bald eagle is 9.1 pounds for males and 11.8 pounds for females.
4. Finally, the population of European starlings is now the second most prevalent bird in America, numbering over 150 million. Often called “silver bullets,” they fly at high speed and have a body density that is 27 percent greater than gulls.
In January 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson River after multiple Canada goose strikes in flight. As a result, New York City Mayor Michael Bloombergdeclared war on geese. Suzanne Goldenberg, New York Declares War on Geese to Prevent Airport Bird Strikes, The Guardian (June 12, 2009). A mayoral steering committee gave the go-ahead to the USDA to cull geese in a 450-mile area encompassing JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark airports. Other means of control include:
1. Each summer, teams of USDA goose catchers capture geese that, in the molting condition cannot fly, including offspring that are then taken to slaughterhouses and dispatched. Between 2009 and 2010, 2911 geese were killed.
2. The USDA reports that 80 percent of Canada geese are resident, and remain in place, rather than migrate. The government and airport operators strongly advocate for the culling of non-migratory birds.
3. Discouraging nesting and grazing.
4. Letting grass grow taller, planting unpalatable grasses, reducing standing rainwater, and oiling eggs to prevent hatching.
5. Firing pyrotechnics and propane cannons.
Given the rapid growth of non-migratory birds at some of the busiest airports, and the dramatic increase in flights, it may only be a matter of time before a catastrophic bird or wildlife strike will happen again, with more disastrous results than the extraordinary landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson.