Tag Archives: Aviation

Birds, Pets, Lasers, Stowaways, and Other Hot Topics in Aviation

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:

  • United Airlines Flight 297. On November 23, 1962, a Vickers Viscount 745D crashed near Columbia, Maryland after striking a flock of whistling swans while cruising at 6,000 feet.  The impact caused the horizontal stabilizer to separate, leading to loss of control.  All seventeen people on board were killed.
  • Ethiopian Airlines Flight 604. On September 15, 1988, a Boeing 737-200 ingested a flock of speckled pigeons as it took off from Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.  Both engines failed immediately, and the ensuing belly landing caused a fire that killed 35 passengers.
  • Leadair UniJet. On January 20, 1995, a Dassault Falcon 20 sucked lapwings into the No. 1 engine on takeoff, which caused an uncontrolled engine failure and a fire in the airplane’s fuselage; all 10 people on board were killed.
  • S. Air Force Boeing E-3. On September 22, 1995 the AWACS aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Elmendorf AFB. The aircraft lost power in both port side engines after the engines ingested several Canada geese during takeoff.  The geese had been disturbed during the takeoff of a Hercules transport moments earlier.  After reaching 250 feet, the plane crashed about two miles from the runway, killing all 24 crew members on board.
  • Ryanair Flight 4102. On November 10, 2008 a Boeing 737-8AS on final approach to Rome Ciampino Airport sustained 90 bird strikes, all from starlings.  After one engine was damaged, and the other engine ingested birds, the crew managed an emergency landing.  There were 10 injuries.  The plane, which was only eight months old, was a total loss.
  • US Airways Flight 1549. On January 15, 2009 an Airbus A320-214 lost power in both engines after multiple strikes with Canada geese shortly after takeoff from LaGuardia Airport.  About three minutes after the loss of all power, the flight crew conducted a water landing on the Hudson River.  150 passengers and five crew members sustained a total of 95 minor and five serious injuries.
  • PHI Inc., Charter. On January 4, 2009, a Sikorsky S-76C crashed into marshland about seven minutes after takeoff near Amelie, Louisiana, killing two pilots and six of the seven passengers. The helicopter’s impact with a red-tailed hawk jarred the fire suppression handles loose, which pushed the engine controls to idle, depriving the engines of fuel.

Boeing has compiled extensive data on bird strikes:

  • More than 219 people have been killed as a result of bird strikes since 1988.
  • Between 1990 and 2009, bird and mammal strikes cost the U.S. civil aviation complex $650 million per year.
  • The U.S. Air Force sustains approximately $333 million dollars in damage per year due to bird strikes.
  • About 5,000 bird strikes were reported by the Air Force in 2012.
  • About 9,000 bird and other wildlife strikes were reported for U.S civil aircraft in 2009.
  • The FAA has identified 482 species of birds involved in strikes from 1990-2012.
  • Between 2001 and 2011, 4066 engines were damaged in 3,935 bird strikes. This resulted in a wide range of outcomes including aborted takeoffs, engine shutdowns, and crashes.

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

  • 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.
  • A twelve 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.
  • 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.
  • Finally, the population of European starlings is now the second most prevalent bird species 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. http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2011_q3/4.  (Last visited 4/19/16).

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:

  • Each summer teams of USDA goose catchers capture geese which, in the molting condition cannot fly, including offspring which are then take to slaughterhouses and killed. Between 2009 and 2010, 2911 geese were killed.
  • 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.
  • Discouraging nesting and grazing.
  • Letting grass grow taller, planting unpalatable grasses, reducing standing rainwater, and oiling eggs to prevent hatching.
  • Firing pyrotechnics and propane cannons.
  • Use of chemical repellants.
  • Population exclusion.
  • Use of visual repellants.
  • Tactile repellants.

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.pdfhttp://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).

Possible Liability

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:

  • In the event of a crash, mass tort litigation by innocent passengers against airlines, airports, governments and contractors arising from security breaches.
  • Widespread concern about security at public, airline, security provider, airport, and government levels which leads to additional legislation, regulation, or policy.
  • Other terrorist acts such as ransom demands or extortion of other conditions by extremists determined to cause a catastrophe through a stowaway with destructive or disruptive capability.
  • Government levied fines for airlines, airports, private security companies, local police, and federal agents based on security breaches.
  • Increased security measures imposed on airport, airline, local, state and federal authorities.
  • Lawsuits by agencies, airlines or security agents against the indigent stowaways are unlikely, although deportation is possible.

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.

http://www.greensboro.com/news/local_news/family-of-teen-stowaway-who-fell-from-plane-s-wheel/article_3e969954-8528-5211-99c8-88cc77529794.html.  (Last visited 4/19/16).

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:

  • Pets are not service animals.
  • Some unusual service animals, including snakes, other reptiles, ferrets, rodents and spiders pose unavoidable safety and/or public health concerns and airlines are not required to transport them in the cabin.
  • Other unusual service animals such as miniature horses, pigs and donkeys should be evaluated on a case by case basis.
  • When Part 382 was first promulgated, most service animals were guide or hearing dogs. Since then, a wider variety of animal (g., cats, monkeys, etc.) have been individually trained to assist people with disabilities. Service animals also perform a wider variety of functions than ever before (e.g., alerting a person with epilepsy of imminent seizure onset, pulling a wheelchair, assisting persons with mobility impairments with balance) which can make it difficult for airline employees to distinguish service animals from pets, especially when a passenger does not appear to be disabled, or the animal has no obvious indicators that it is a service animal.
  • People with disabilities use many different terms to identify animals that can meet the legal definition of “service animal.” These range from umbrella terms such as “assistance animal” to specific labels such as “hearing,” “signal,” “seizure alert,” “psychiatric service,” “emotional support” animal, etc. that describe how the animal assists a person with a disability.
  • In a nutshell, the main requirements of Part 382 regarding service animals are:
    • Carriers shall permit dogs and other service animals used by persons with disabilities to accompany the persons on a flight. § 382.117(a).
    • Carriers shall accept as evidence that an animal is a service animal identifiers such as identification cards, other written documentation, presence of harnesses, tags or the credible verbal assurances of a qualified individual with a disability using the animal.
    • Carriers shall permit a service animal to accompany a qualified individual with a disability in any seat in which the person sits, unless the animal obstructs an aisle or other area that must remain unobstructed in order to facilitate an emergency evacuation or to comply with FAA regulations.
  • If a service animal cannot be accommodated at the seat location of the qualified individual with a disability whom the animal is accompanying, the carrier shall offer the passenger the opportunity to move with the animal to a seat location in the same class of service, if present on the aircraft, where the animal can be accommodated, as an alternative to requiring that the animal travel in the cargo hold § 382.117(c).
  • Carriers shall not impose charges for providing facilities, equipment, or services that are required by this Part to be provided to qualified individuals with a disability § 382.31.

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).

Scott Brooksby will be a featured speaker at the 2016 International Air and Transportation Safety Bar Association Conference in Washington, DC

Scott Brooksby will be speaking at the 2016 International Air and Transportation Safety Bar Association Conference April 28 – April 30, 2016, in Washington, DC.  He will be speaking with other distinguished panelists, including James Rodriguez from the national Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) regarding “Obtaining Testimony from the NTSB”.

Scott Brooksby practices aviation and product liability defense.  He is an experienced trial lawyer who has defended businesses, manufacturers, and organizations in many personal injury and and commercial cases. He has defended and counseled product manufacturers and distributors in a variety of industries including aviation, drugs and medical devices, toys and recreational products, paints and solvents, power tools, heavy equipment and machinery, retail, food, consumer products, and automobiles. He is the former co-chair of a large West Coast law firm’s product liability practice group.

Scott has tried numerous personal injury and product liability cases in Oregon state and federal courts.

In cases that do not necessitate a trial, Scott is a skilled negotiator who has resolved hundreds of cases through arbitration and mediation. He has successfully argued many motions that resulted in the dismissal of claims, or outright dismissal of his client. He also has experience counseling product liability clients regarding the avoidance of litigation, handling product recalls, product modifications, and unwanted governmental intervention.

Scott has litigated everything from small defective product claims to catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases involving punitive damages.  He has experience with medical treatment issues that result from falls, burns and amputation injuries in manufacturing facilities.

As one of the few lawyers in Oregon with significant aviation experience, Scott has litigated helicopter and plane crash cases, as well as aviation component part product liability claims.  Scott was co-counsel on a team that defended a large aviation product manufacturer in a months-long trial.

Scott Brooksby featured as a speaker at the American Conference Institute’s 8th National Forum on Aviation Claims & Litigation at The Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York, New York

Scott Brooksby will be featured as a speaker at the American Conference Institute’s 8th National Forum on Aviation Claims & Litigation at The Carlton Hotel on Madison Avenue in New York, New York.   The conference will take place June 27–28, 2016.  Scott will speak with other distinguished panelists regarding “Spotlight on Flight Crew Mental Health Issues Post-Germanwings: An In Depth Discussion of the Legal, Regulatory, Public Safety and Ethical Considerations”.

The presentation will touch on  the following issues:

• An in depth discussion of aeromedical
issues and developments following last year’s
Germanwings crash
• 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)

The American Conference Institute’s (ACI’s)  National Forum on Aviation Claims & Litigation provides up to the minute insights and strategies that are necessary to manage and defend against the newest claims and enforcement.  Scott will join ACI’s unparalleled faculty of federal government officials, judges, expert in-house counsel, and leading outside counsel to provide strategic advice, critical insights, and comprehensive updates for:
FAA, DOT & NTSB priorities, initiatives, and practices
DRONES – the latest FAA regulatory developments; the legal,
technical and policy concerns; and emerging developments in the
UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) insurance market
FLIGHT CREW MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES POST-GERMANWINGS:
the legal, regulatory, public safety and ethical considerations
Incorporating the latest PREEMPTION DEVELOPMENTS into your
litigation strategy, and the continuing fallout from DAIMLER AG V. BAUMAN
Liability and safety issues surrounding PILOT OVER DEPENDENCY ON AUTOMATION FEATURES
BREAKING DOWN TWO HYPOTHETICAL AIRPORT CLAIMS: injury in an airport concession stand & airfield “ramp side” work injury
Analyzing the latest PASSENGER DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS
FOREIGN CRASHES / INCIDENTS: navigating the complexities of
forum non conveniens, criminal liability, venue and choice of law
DEFENDING AVIATION CLAIMS: discovery challenges, effective use of experts, spoliation and preservation of evidence, proper use of NTSB reports, and winning over the jury

Service animal dog bites passenger on commercial flight

Service animal dog bites are becoming more common.  Recently, a trial court in Spokane dealt with a service dog bite on a commercial flight.  The following is from Scott Brooksby’s article in the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts Practice Points, March 31, 2016:

Court Holds ACAA Preempts Passenger Claim Arising From Service Dog Bite

A recent Washington state trial court opinion held that federal field preemption under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) preempts state-law tort claims arising from a service-dog bite that caused injuries to another passenger on a commercial flight. Sullivan v Alaska Air Group Inc., No. 15-02-00227 (Spokane Cnty. Feb. 29, 2016).

In Sullivan, the plaintiff was a passenger on a Horizon Air flight from Seattle to Spokane. On the same flight, defendant Wenzel was accompanied by his Rottweiler service animal. Wenzel and the dog were initially seated in the rear of the plane, but were moved to the front to better accommodate the size of the animal. On arrival, the service animal allegedly bit the palm of the plaintiff as she disembarked.

The plaintiff brought state-law negligence claims and contended that the airline had a duty to protect her from the harm caused by the service animal, and that the animal posed a foreseeable risk. Horizon Air argued that the ACAA preempts the plaintiff’s claims, either through conflict or field preemption. Horizon argued that the FAA has been empowered by Congress to promulgate rules and regulations in regard to airline safety and rules that should be afforded to passengers who may have need of a service animal. The airline argued that the rules and regulations establish a national standard that completely covers the issue of service animals on airplanes, and, therefore, the national standard preempts any state-law tort claim that would undermine the ACAA.

Washington state courts previously held that Congress may preempt local law where the federal government intended to exclusively occupy a field. Campbell v. Dep’t of Soc. & Health Servs., 83 P.3d 999, 1009 (Wash. 2004). The court also relied on a Ninth Circuit holding that under the ACAA, the secretary of transportation is authorized to promulgate rules governing air commerce and safety, and, pursuant to that authorization, the Department of Transportation has issued “detailed requirements that airlines must meet to comply with the ACAA.” Gilstrap v. United Air Lines, Inc., 709 F.3d 995, 1000 (9th Cir. 2013).

The regulations state in part that a carrier must permit a service animal to accompany a passenger with a disability to any seat as long as the animal is not precluded (too large, poses a direct threat to health and safety of others, or would cause a significant disruption of service by doing so). 14 C.F.R. § 382.117. If the animal is not precluded, the carrier must permit the animal to ride in the cabin. Therefore, the airline had a duty to do two things: (1) establish that the animal is in fact a service animal; (2) determine if the animal presents either a direct threat to the health and safety of others or a significant threat to the disruption of airline service. Thus the ACAA establishes the standard of care that Horizon Air owed the plaintiff and preempts any different or higher standard of care that may exist under Washington law. See Gilstrap, 709 F.3d at 1007.

The defendant dog owner assured Horizon that he was aware of the airline’s rules regarding service animals, which stated in part, that the owner must show evidence, either through a type of harness or markings on the harness or other credible assurances that the animal is a service animal. The dog was wearing a harness indicating that it was a service animal. The owner also established that the animal had flown on Horizon or its partners 12 times since 2009 without any incident. The court held that taken together, these facts established that Horizon fulfilled its duty to determine that the animal was a service animal and based on past experience would not disrupt the flight.

The court found that airline passenger safety as it relates to service animals was pervasively regulated by the ACAA, and concluded that the federal statutes and regulation preempt any applicable state standards of care. See 14 C.F.R. § 382.117. The court concluded that because Horizon Air had fulfilled its duties through compliance with the pervasive regulations of the ACAA, it was entitled to summary judgment.

 

Bird Strikes and Aviation: Facts and Fault

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.

Data Sampling
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.

Prevention
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.

Conclusion
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.

Scott Brooksby featured as moderator at prominent aviation conference

Oregon aviation lawyer Scott Brooksby will be featured as a moderator at the 2016 American Bar Association Aviation Litigation National Institute in New York, New York, entitled “Birds, Pets, Lasers, Stowaways, and Other Hot Topics in Aviation”.  The conference will take place at the University Club of New York.

Scott Brooksby will join other distinguished faculty at this prominent aviation conference, which will highlight current developments in aviation law including:

• Birds, pets, lasers, stowaways, and other hot topics
• Recent developments in case law in aviation and space law
• Defenses available in war zone tort actions
• Ethics—The preparation and testimony of witnesses during an aviation trial
• Improving aviation safety
• Defining the boundaries of federal preemption in aviation litigation
• Handling Air Traffic Control issues and aviation mishaps in air crash cases
• Carrier liability surrounding the failure to divert due to medical circumstances
• Liability issues surrounding foreign maintenance of American aircraft

Much of the firm’s practice is devoted to aviation law, and we are one of the few firms in Oregon with aviation trial experience.  Scott Brooksby leads our aviation practice, devoting a substantial amount of his time and practice to aviation-related matters.  Scott served as local counsel for one of the largest aviation manufacturers in the world in a nine-week trial in Oregon state court.  The trial involved product liability issues and concerned a helicopter crash that resulted in burns, permanent injuries, and multiple deaths.  Mr. Brooksby is on the aviation subcommittee of the American Bar Association’s Mass Torts section, and serves as a speaker on aviation matters at aviation law conferences across the nation.

Scott Brooksby featured as moderator regarding helicopter accidents

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Scott Brooksby recently moderated a panel at a prominent aviation conference concerning helicopter accidents.  Scott’s panel was featured at the American Bar Association’s Aviation Litigation National Institute in New York regarding “Helicopter Accidents: A Review of Recent Cases of Interest”.

At this prominent aviation conference, Scott was part of a distinguished faculty, which highlighted current developments in aviation law and insurance topics including:

• Safety in the cockpit issues and precedents that developed from the 9/11 litigation and how they relate to the Germanwings tragedy

• The unique challenges involved in emergency medical helicopter services both from a legal and safety perspective

• Choice of forum and other legal issues and precedents arising from several high profile international disasters

• London market claims leaders’ perspectives on handling aviation disasters spanning the globe

• Flying special missions for government and industry from explosives to ebola

• New developments in the law of aircraft financier liability in connection with the tortious actions of lessees and operators

• Common themes and issues faced by the trial teams in domestic cases such as the Colgan Air 3407 and Comair 5191

• Ethical considerations when selecting and preparing experts in aviation accident litigation

• The future of aviation, aerospace law, and litigation in connection with drones and commercial space/sub-orbital travel

 Scott Brooksby is an aviation lawyer in Portland, Oregon, with experience in a broad variety of aviation topics, including helicopter litigation and crashes.

Scott Brooksby Featured at Prominent Aviation Litigation Conference

SB Maverick

Scott Brooksby will be speaking at the 2014 American Bar Association’s Aviation Litigation Seminar on June 5, 2014, in New York.  Scott’s panel is entitled “Federal Rules of Evidence: New Treatment of NTSB Factual Reports and Underlying Findings.”

The American Bar Association’s Aviation Litigation Seminar enables aviation lawyers to stay up to date on current developments, ethical issues, and new trends in aviation litigation. Scott Brooksby will be featured as part of the distinguished faculty of seasoned litigators, who will address topics such as:

• Significant recent legal developments and case law
• The ethics of prepping and presenting witnesses for deposition or trial
• Impact of unmanned aerial vehicles in aviation litigation
• Effectively handling non-catastrophic aviation cases
• Pilot training issues and litigation
• Recent applications of the General Aviation
Revitalization Act
• Legal, regulatory, and insurance implications of space tourism
• New treatment of NTSB factual reports

Scott Brooksby practices aviation and product liability defense.  He is an experienced trial lawyer who has defended businesses, manufacturers, and organizations in many personal injury and and commercial cases. He has defended and counseled product manufacturers and distributors in a variety of industries including aviation, drugs and medical devices, toys and recreational products, paints and solvents, power tools, heavy equipment and machinery, retail, food, consumer products, and automobiles. He is the former co-chair of a large West Coast law firm’s product liability practice group.

Scott has tried numerous personal injury and product liability cases in Oregon state and federal courts.

In cases that do not necessitate a trial, Scott is a skilled negotiator who has resolved hundreds of cases through arbitration and mediation. He has successfully argued many motions that resulted in the dismissal of claims, or outright dismissal of his client. He also has experience counseling product liability clients regarding the avoidance of litigation, handling product recalls, product modifications, and unwanted governmental intervention.

Scott has litigated everything from small defective product claims to catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases involving punitive damages.  He has experience with medical treatment issues that result from falls, burns and amputation injuries in manufacturing facilities.

As one of the few lawyers in Oregon with significant aviation experience, Scott has litigated helicopter and plane crash cases, as well as aviation component part product liability claims.  Scott was co-counsel on a team that defended a large aviation product manufacturer in a months-long trial.

Aviation Fatalities: Most are Caused by Human Error

Developing and Following Good Standard Operating Procedures (“SOPs”) and Crew Resource Management (“CRM”) Procedures Are the Keys to Avoiding Aviation Fatalities

The National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) recently released its statistical data calculating transportation fatalities across all modes of transportation in 2011.  There were 494 fatalities in aviation.  The breakdown was as follows: general aviation, 444; air taxi, 41; foreign/unregistered, 9; airlines, 0; commuter, 0.[1]

In comparing the 2011 data against the prior decade or so, there are certainly positive signs.  But, like all raw statistics, the numbers are most useful when integrated into a longitudinal data comparison from which conclusions are drawn.  The NTSB fatality statistics draw a conclusion that might not be obvious from the 2011 data alone: Human error absolutely dominates as the leading cause of aviation fatalities (and injuries).

There are two keys to avoiding aviation fatalities: developing and following good SOPs and CRM procedures.  This article will examine some of the persistent human causes of aviation accidents, many of which are merely outgrowths of the failure of aviation organizations to develop, adhere to, and not willfully disregard SOPs.  The second cause of aviation fatalities examined in this article is the failure of flight deck crews to follow CRM procedures.  Complications that lead to failure to follow CRM procedures include factors such as cockpit chaos; multi-lingual cockpits; failure to maintain cockpit discipline; surprise; and failure, during emergencies, to rely on the crew member with the most flight time, if appropriate given the constitution of the crew as a whole.

Accidents Can Be Avoided Through Proper Cockpit Procedures and Compliance With SOPs

On September 16, 2013, NTSB Member Robert Sumwalt (“Member Sumwalt”) gave a presentation to the Southern California Aviation Association[2] on the importance of SOPs.  Member Sumwalt, quoting from an NTSB accident report, noted that, “[w]ell-designed cockpit procedures are an effective countermeasure against operational errors, and disciplined compliance with SOPs, including strict cockpit discipline, provides the basis for effective crew coordination and performance.”[3]

Member Sumwalt then presented facts about what the accident data show regarding crew-caused accidents.  In an NTSB study of 37 crew-caused air carrier accidents between 1978 and 1990, procedural errors, such as not making required callouts or failing to use appropriate checklists, were found in 29 of the 37 (78%) reviewed accidents.  The accident data also show that, with respect to turbine-powered operations (2001-2010), the NTSB identified at least 86 accidents involving lack of adequate procedures, policies, or checklists, or lack of flight crew adherence to procedures, policies, or checklists.  These accidents resulted in 149 fatalities.[4]

Developing Effective SOPs

The development of SOPs in various industries has been accomplished through a variety of regulatory bodies, industry groups, and volunteerism.  One of the first groups to establish such guidelines was the International Conference on Harmonisation (ICH), which defines SOPs as “detailed written instructions to achieve uniformity of the performance of a specific function.”  The international quality standard (“ISO”) 9001 essentially requires the establishment of SOPs for any manufacturing process that could affect the quality of the product.  Although ICH’s implementation of the ISO 9001 SOPs was in the context of clinical drug trials, a substantially similar system has been expanded to other industries.[5]

In the context of aviation, the SOP provides a flight crew with a step-by-step guide to effectively and safely carry out operations.  A particular SOP must not only achieve the task at hand but also be understood by a crew of various backgrounds and experiences within the organization.  SOPs can also be developed over time to incorporate improvements based on experience, accidents, near misses, or innovations from other manufacturers or operators to suit the needs of a particular organization.  SOPs can also provide employees with a reference to common business practices, activities, or tasks.[6]  New employees use SOPs to answer questions without having to interrupt supervisors to ask how an operation is performed.[7]

Although reference is made to ISO 9001 in the context of clinical trials, the ISO 9000 family of standards is related to quality management systems and designed to help organizations follow consistent procedures to meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders.[8]  “AS 9000” is the Aerospace Basic Quality System Standard–an interpretation developed and adopted by virtually all the major aerospace manufacturers.  The current version is AS 9100C.  A new version of the standard will be published in September 2015 if the ISO members vote favorably in March 2015.[9]

The Failure of Flight Crews to Comply With SOPs and the Consequences

During his remarks on flight crew error, Member Sumwalt cited a Boeing study of accident prevention strategies where the data suggested that the single most important factor in prevention of hull loss accidents over a ten-year period was pilot flying (PF) adherence to SOPs.  Member Sumwalt noted that SOPs are typically not followed for three specific reasons.  He discussed each reason, and then used data from an NTSB investigation, or preliminary cause report, as support or illustration for each of the three reasons.

The reasons SOPs are typically not followed are:

(1) the organization lacks adequate SOPs;

(2) the organization doesn’t adhere to their SOPs; and

(3) flight crews intentionally disregard SOPs.

SOPs should be clear, comprehensive, and readily available in the manuals used by flight deck crew members.[10]  Member Sumwalt provided three real-life corollary examples:

  • The Organization Lacks Adequate SOPs – Crash of East Coast Jets, Hawker Beechcraft BAe 800, on July 31, 2008, Owatonna, Minnesota (8 fatalities)

The NTSB found that, although as a charter operator, East Coast Jets was not required to incorporate SOPs into its operations manual, if it had done so, it may have supported the accident pilots in establishing cockpit discipline and, therefore, a safer cockpit environment.  An example was provided where the SOP identifies the triggering event, designates which crewmember performs the action or callout, what the callout is, and what the action is.

  • The Organization Fails to Adhere to Its Established SOPs – Crash of Cessna 310, N501N, July 10, 2007, Sanford, Florida (5 fatalities)

In this case the organization did not adhere to SOPs.  The aviation director could not locate the SOP manual, which was viewed as merely a training tool.  The aircraft was to be used only for company business, but the accident flight was a personal flight.  The Pilot in Command (“PIC”) must possess an Airline Transport Pilot (“ATP”) Certificate/Rating, but the PIC did not possess the necessary ATP.  The last three maintenance discrepancies had not been addressed.  The NTSB noted that these lapses were contrary to industry guidelines directing that procedures should be written in accordance with the organization’s operating methods, and once the procedures are in place, the organization should make every effort to follow those procedures.  Having a strong commitment to standardization and discipline were among the key elements of safe operations observed in a Boeing study.  Cockpit procedural language is tightly controlled to maintain consistency and to avoid confusion from non-standard callouts.  Callouts and responses should be done verbatim.[11]

  • Flight Crews Intentionally Disregard Established SOPs – Hard Landing of US Airways Express, January 19, 2010, Charleston, West Virginia

The NTSB probable cause determination was “the flight crewmembers’ unprofessional behavior, including their non-adherence to sterile cockpit procedures by engaging in non-pertinent conversation, which distracted them from their primary flight-related duties and led to their failure to correctly set and verify the flaps.”  Intentional crew non-compliance was a factor in 40% of the worldwide accidents reviewed.[12]

NTSB Member Sumwalt concluded by noting that well-designed SOPs are essential for safety.  Making a strong commitment to procedural compliance should be a core value of the organization.  The SOPs must not merely exist, but they must be religiously followed as a way of doing business.

Well-Coordinated CRM is a Crucial Part of Accident Prevention

CRM[13] is a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects.  Used primarily for improving air safety, CRM focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit.

CRM grew out of an NTSB analysis of the crash of United Airlines flight 173 where the plane, a DC-8, ran out of fuel while troubleshooting a landing gear problem over Portland Oregon.[14]  The NTSB issued its landmark recommendation on June 7, 1979, to require CRM training for airline crews.  A few weeks later, NASA held a workshop on the topic, endorsing this innovative training.[15]  United Airlines was the first airline to provide CRM training for its cockpit crews in 1981.[16]

Since that time, CRM training concepts have been modified for application to a wide range of activities where people must make dangerous time-critical decisions.  These arenas include air traffic control, ship handling, firefighting, and medical operating rooms.[17]

The Difficulty of Precisely Executing CRM Procedures In a Multicultural Cockpit

Multiculturalism in the cockpit is a largely recent phenomenon.  Globalization and shrinking militaries around the world have led to a decrease in the availability of trained pilots, a lack of homogenous flight crews, and the emergence of multicultural cockpits.  In 2005, a Helios Airways Boeing 737-300, with its pilots incapacitated by hypoxia after they failed to recognize a cabin pressurization system malfunction, provides a good example of what can happen when communication and crew resource management break down in the multicultural cockpit.[18]  All 121 people on the airplane were killed when the 737 depressurized and ran out of fuel, the engines flamed out, and the airplane crashed, after what was to have been a flight from Larnaca, Cyprus, to Prague, Czech Republic, with a stop in Athens.

In its final report on the accident, the Hellenic Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board said the crew had failed to recognize that the cabin pressurization mode selector was in the wrong position.  The Helios crew exhibited poor CRM before takeoff and during climb, and the difference in their nationalities and primary languages–the captain was German, the first officer was Cyprian–contributed to poor communication during the event.  A blaring cabin altitude warning horn and the illumination of master caution lights degraded the crew’s cognitive abilities and processes.  Inter-cockpit communications were reduced, perhaps in part because English was a second or third language for the crew.[19]

The CRM Lessons Learned From Air France 447–“Crew Coordination Vanished”

On March 27, 1977, two Boeing 747s crashed on the single runway on the Spanish island of Tenerife, killing 583 people.  More than 35 years later, it is still measured by the number of casualties, and is by far the worst aviation disaster in history.  One aspect of the accident, unlike many tragic and significant disasters, is that the non-aviation community was fixated on the Tenerife crash, the individuals involved, and exactly what the sequence of events was.  Arguably the next time both the aviation community and the non-aviation community became as fixated on an aviation disaster was the 2009 crash of Air France 447.[20]

Within four and a half minutes in the early hours of June 1, 2009, an Airbus A330-200 operating as Air France Flight 447 from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, departed from cruise flight at 35,000 feet and descended into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 216 passengers and 12 crewmembers.  Glimpses of what may have gone wrong emerged from the several interim reports issued by the French Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (BEA) during the long investigation.  In July, 2012, the BEA issues a nearly 300-page final report.

According to the report, the trouble began when the A330’s pitot tubes were obstructed by ice crystals, causing the various air data sources to produce unreliable airspeed information.  Reacting as designed, the autopilot and autothrottle disengaged, and reverted to a lower control law that provides fewer protections against flight-envelope deviations.  Startled, the pilot flying (“PF”) inadvertently commanded a steep nose-up pitch change while leveling the airplane’s wings.  The flight crew–a copilot and a relief pilot filling in for the resting captain–recognized the loss of reliable airspeed data but did not conduct the associated checklist procedure.  As a result, “[c]onfusion reigned on the flight deck, and crew coordination vanished.” [21]  Without automatic angle-of-attack protection, the airplane entered a stall.  The crew either believed that the stall warnings were spurious or mistook the airframe buffeting as a sign of an overspeed condition.  When the resting captain was called to return to the flight deck, he continued to apply nose-up flight inputs, when, at such a low altitude, the only possible chance to get the plane back into the flight envelope would have been nose-down inputs.  In addition, the PF almost immediately took back priority without any callout and continued piloting.  The priority takeover by the PF contributed to the de-structuring of the task-sharing between the pilots.  No recovery action was taken, and the A330 remained in a stall as it descended into the sea.

Additional sections of the BEA final report comment on the fragmented nature of the augmented crew, and the fact that some junior officers had far more flight hours in type than some of the more senior crew members, further eroding the opportunity for effective CRM in a surprise situation.

SOPs and CRM Must be Properly Implemented and Adhered To

Disciplined implementation of, and adherence to, SOPs is inseparable from the disciplined implementation of, and adherence to, CRM.  Although this article only scratches the surface on data supporting this conclusion, it is an irrebuttable presumption that if flight crews fully embrace SOPs and CRM, flying will be safer.


[1] Data and Statistics-NTSB-National Transportation Safety Board http://www.ntsb.gov/data/index.html (last visited, October 18, 2013).

[2] Member Robert L. Sumwalt, Standard Operating Procedures:  The Backbone of Professional Flight Operations,  http://www.ntsb.gov/news/speeches_sumwalt.html  September 16, 2013 (last visited October 18, 2013) (unpaginated).

[3] Id. (citing from National Transportation Safety Board Accident Report NTSB/AAR-11/01, PB2011-910401, Crash During Attempted Go-Around After Landing, East Coast Jets Flight 81, Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, 125-800A, N818MV, Owatonna, Minnesota, July 31, 2008).

[4] Id.

[5] ICH Harmonized Tripartite Guidelines For Good Clinical Practice. (1.55.)  May 1, 1996.

[6] Green, R. G., Muir, H., James, M., Gradwell, D., & Green, R. L. (1996) Human Factors for Pilots (2nd ed). Ashgate Publishing Ltd (Hants, England), 1996.

[7] Anderson, Chris.  How to Write Standard Operating Procedures.  Bizmanualz, June 4, 2012.

[8] Poksinska, Bozena; Dahlgaard, Jens Jörn; Antoni, Marc (2002). The State of ISO 9000 Certification: A Study of Swedish Organizations. The TQM Magazine 14 (5): 297.

[9] Nigel H. Croft (2012). ISO 9001:2015 and Beyond – Preparing for the Next 25 Years of Quality Management Standards“. ISO.

[10] FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-71.

[11] Reference to Lautman-Gallimore Study.  Member Robert L. Sumwalt, Standard Operating Procedures:  The Backbone of Professional Flight Operations  http://www.ntsb.gov/news/speeches_sumwalt.html  September 16, 2013 (last visited October 18, 2013) (unpaginated).

[12] R. Khatwa & R. Helmreich, cited in Member Robert L. Sumwalt, Standard Operating Procedures:  The Backbone of Professional Flight Operations  http://www.ntsb.gov/news/speeches_sumwalt.html  September 16, 2013 (last visited October 18, 2013) (unpaginated).

[13] Diehl, Alan (2013) “Air Safety Investigators: Using Science to Save Lives-One Crash at a Time.” Xlibris Corporation. ISBN 9781479728930. http://www.prweb.com/releases/DrAlanDiehl/AirSafetyInvestigators/prweb10735591.htm.

[14] UNITED AIR LINES, INC. “McDONNELL-DOUGLAS DC-8-61, N8082U PORTLAND, OREGON : DECEMBER 28, 1978.” National Transportation Safety Board. December 28, 1978. 9 (15/64).

[15] Cooper, G.E., White, M.D., & Lauber, J.K. (Eds.) 1980. “Resource Management on the Flight Deck,” Proceedings of a NASA/Industry Workshop (NASA CP-2120).

[16] Helmreich, R. L.; Merritt, A. C.; Wilhelm, J. A. (1999).  “The Evolution of Crew Resource Management Training in Commercial Aviation.”  International Journal of Aviation Psychology.  9 (1): 19–32.

[17] Diehl, Alan (June, 1994). “Crew Resource Management… It’s Not Just for Fliers Anymore.” Flying Safety, USAF Safety Agency.

[18] Hellenic Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board.  Aircraft Accident Report 11/2006, Helios Airways Flight HCY522, Boeing 737-315, at Grammatiko, Hellas, 14 August 2005.

[19] Id.

[20] The following summary of the facts and conclusions associated with AF 447 is based on the English translation of the BEA’s “Final Report on the Accident on 1st June 2009 to the Airbus A330-203, Registered F-CZCP, operated by Air France, Flight AF 447, Rio de Janeiro-Paris”.  The report is available in English and the original French at www.bea.aero.

[21] Mark Lacagnina, Sustained Stall: Blocked Pitot Tubes, Excessive Control Inputs and Cockpit Confusion Doomed Air France 447, http://flightsafety.org/aerosafety-world-magazine/august-2012/sustained-stall (accessed October 22, 2013).

Turbine Engine Hot Section Manufacturing: Complex Metallurgy and Dangerous Work Environments

Turbine engine hot section manufacturing is a complex industry that involves risk of serious injury and an adherence to safety rules and best practices.

There is a common maxim that two technologies liberated the modern world: the automatic washing machine and the jet engine.  When RAF Lieutenant Frank Whittle received an English patent on the basic design for the modern jet engine in 1930 (the first flight was not until 1941), he probably could not have imagined the changes that would occur, in materials, complexity, and performance capability.

Today’s commercial jet engines have as many as 25,000 parts.  They are up to eleven feet in diameter and twelve feet long.  The engines can weigh more than 10,000 pounds and produce 100,000 pounds of thrust.  Even the engine on a fully tested and approved design may take two years to assemble.  A super-jumbo jet can carry 500-800 passengers, depending on configuration, and have a take-off weight of 1.2 million pounds.

Section I will provide a basic overview of the production and metallurgical complexities associated with the manufacture of some hot section components.  Section II will address a unique aspect of jet hot section manufacturing.  Specifically, the complex and exacting standards required to avoid catastrophic in-flight aviation accidents also require the most disciplined adherence to best practices for safety to avoid catastrophic occupational injury, particularly burns, in high temperature work environments.  Section III will briefly discuss the catastrophic burn injuries that result from failure to follow exacting safety precautions.

Section I:  The Hot Section

At the front of the engine, a fan drives air into the engine’s first compartment, the compressor, a space approximately 20 times smaller than the first stage of the compressor.   As the air leaves the high-pressure compressor and enters the combustor, it mixes with fuel and is burned.  As the gas is combusted and expands, some gas passes through the exhaust and some is rerouted to the engine’s turbine (a set of fans that rotate compressor blades).  The turbine extracts energy from the ultra-hot gases to power the compressor shaft and generate power.

Because the turbine is subject to such incredible heat, labyrinthine airways in the turbine blades allow cool air to pass through them to cool the turbine.  With the cooling mechanism of the airstream, the turbine can function in gas streams where the temperature is higher than the melting point of the alloy from which the turbine is made.

Titanium, purified to aviation specifications in the 1950s, is used for the most critical components of the “hot section” such as the combustion chamber and turbine.  The hardness of titanium is difficult to work with, but it is resistant to extreme heat.  It is often alloyed with other metals such as nickel and aluminum for high strength/weight ratios.

Hot Section Component Manufacturing

The intake fan.  The fan must be strong so it does not fracture if large birds or debris are sucked in.  It is made of a titanium alloy.  Each fan blade consists of two skins produced by shaping molten titanium in a hot press.  Each blade skin is welded to a mate, with a hollow cavity in the center being filled with titanium honeycomb.

The compressor disc. This is a solid core, resembling a notched wheel, to which the compressor blades are attached.  It must be free of even minute imperfections, since these could cause creeping or develop into fractures under the tremendous stress of engine operation.  Historically machined, compressor discs are now manufactured through a process called powder metallurgy, which consists of pouring molten metal onto a rapidly rotating turntable that breaks the molten metal into millions of microscopic droplets that are flung back up almost immediately, due to the table’s spinning.  As they leave the turntable, the droplets’ temperature plummets by 2120 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius) in half a second, causing them to solidify and form a very fine metal powder, which solidifies too quickly to absorb impurities.  The powder is packed into a forming case and vibrated in a vacuum to remove air.  The case is then sealed and heated, under 25,000 pounds of pressure per square, inch into a disc.

Compressor blades.  These blades are still formed by traditional methods of casting.  Alloy is poured into a ceramic mold, heated in a furnace, and cooled.  The mold is broken and blades are machined to final shape, often to exacting tolerances on the order of 7 microns.

Combustion chambers.  Combustion chambers blend air and fuel in small spaces for long periods of time at incredible temperatures.  Titanium is alloyed (to increase ductility) and then heated to liquid before being poured into several complex segment molds.  The segments are welded together after cooling and removal.

The turbine disc and blades.  The turbine disc is formed by the same powder metallurgy used to create the compressor disc.  However, turbine blades are subjected to even greater stress due to the intense heat of the combustor.  Copies of the blades are formed by pouring wax into metal molds.  Once set, the wax shape is removed and immersed in a ceramic slurry bath, forming a ceramic coating.  Each cluster of shapes is heated to harden the ceramic and melt the wax.  Molten metal is then poured into the hollow left by the melted wax.

The metal grains of the blades are then aligned parallel to the blade by directional solidifying, which is important due to the blade stresses.  If the grains are aligned correctly, the blade is much less likely to fracture.  The solidifying process takes place in computer-controlled ovens to precise specifications.  Parallel lines of tiny holes are formed to supplement internal cooling passageways, either by a small laser beam or by spark erosion, where sparks are carefully allowed to eat holes in the blade.

Turbine blades are subject to temperatures of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 Celsius.  At such temperatures, creep, corrosion, and fatigue failures are all possible.  Thermal barrier coatings, such as aluminide coatings developed during the 1970s, facilitated cooling.  Ceramic coatings developed during the 1980s improved blade capability by about 200 degrees F. and nearly doubled blade life.

Modern turbine blades often use nickel-based superalloys that incorporate chromium, cobalt, and rhenium.  Some superalloys incorporate crystal technology.  Nimonic is another super low-creep superalloy used in turbine blades.  Titanium aluminide, a chemical compound with excellent mechanical properties at elevated temperatures, may replace Ni based superalloys in turbine blades.  GE uses titanium aluminide on low pressure turbine blades on the GEnx engine powering Boeing 787s.  The blades are cast by Precision Castparts Corp.

Exhaust system.  The inner duct and afterburners are molded from titanium, while the outer duct and nacelle are formed from Kevlar, with all components welded into a subassembly.

Section II.  Defects in Both Hot Section Components and Safety Procedures Can Result in Catastrophic Injuries

An imperfection in the hot section, which results, for example, in a blade fracture during flight, or excessive creep, may result in an uncontrolled engine failure, among other catastrophic inflight mishaps, putting lives at risk.  In an interesting corollary, unique to very few manufacturing settings, adherence to the safest manufacturing processes will minimize both product defects and worker injuries, primarily serious burns.

Few Things Drive Higher Verdicts, Workers Compensation Costs, or Settlements, Than Burns

In those industries where “serious large burns” can arbitrarily be defined as full-thickness burns over 20% or more of the total body surface area (TBSA), the location of the burns and the relative availability of certain types of grafts can be outcome determinative and correlate directly with litigation risk, settlements, and verdicts. Most problematic are 4th degree burns to the hands or face, which can never, ever, be fully repaired with current surgical technology or therapeutic treatments.

Skin Graft Classification

There are two common types of skin grafts.  A split-thickness graft (STSG), or mesh graft, includes the epidermis and part of the dermis.  A mesher makes apertures in the graft, allowing it to expand approximately 9 times its original size.

Alternatively, a full thickness skin graft, or sheet graft, which involves pitching and cutting away skin from the donor section, is more risky in terms of rejection.  Yet counter-intuitively, this method leaves a scar only on the donor section, heals more quickly, and is less painful than split-thickness grafting.  This type of grafting, sheet grafting, must be used for hands and faces/heads where graft contraction must be minimized, and it is therefore extremely difficult to achieve in large TBSA burns.

Remedies

Although workers compensation laws will generally bar litigation by workers against their employers, in cases where the exclusive remedy provision of workers compensation does not apply, it is not uncommon in the United States to see burn verdicts or settlements in the millions or even tens of millions of dollars.  Mandatory PPE and best safety practices for dealing with ultra-high temperature work environments can minimize injuries, although the practical reality is that elimination of such injuries remains an aspirational goal.