Thursday, November 22, 2007

Choices


I often say to disappointed pilots who've just had to cancel a flight that, given all the ingredients required to get airborne (airworthy aircraft, current and legal pilot, instructor, adequate weather, no temporary flight restrictions, etc.), it's amazing that anyone ever is able to takeoff, let alone actually learn how to fly. Just when I think I've seen every possible eventuality that can cause a flight to be cancelled, something new crops up.

Like many others, I found myself scratching my head after reading Ron's excellent post about Precision Airmotive's decision to stop the shipment and production of aircraft carburetor parts due to their inability to get liability insurance. Only a few days later did I learn that an aircraft that I fly regularly had been affected by this issue. During an annual inspection, one carburetor was deemed to be in need of rebuilding, it was removed, and was sent out for repair. A few days later, the carburetor shop sent word that they were having difficulty locating a carburetor float. As of this writing the issue still hasn't been resolved, though apparently another company has announced they are buying Precision Airmotive's operation, moving it to the East Coast, and they plan to resume shipments by the beginning of 2008.

I'm usually not interested whining about our legal system, but I find myself compelled to do exactly that: Whine. Consider just one example: The case of Senator Mel Carnahan, his son, and an aide, who were all killed several years ago in the crash of a light twin engine aircraft during a night flight in instrument meteorological conditions. The facts of the crash are that Carnahan's son, the pilot-in-command, reported that the primary gyro-driven attitude indicator failed, He was able to maintain control for several minutes while attempting to find an airport at which to land. But as in many cases when gyro instruments fail and the pilot(s) are unable to get into visual conditions, Randy Carnahan apparently became disoriented, lost control, and the aircraft crashed.

After the crash, a civil lawsuit was filed against several companies involved in the manufacture of the aircraft and its components, including the company who made the engine-driven vacuum pump. Even though the NTSB report concluded the primary cause of the accident was pilot disorientation, that didn't stop the lawsuit. In the end, a fair amount of money changed hands, though the large punitive damages requested were not awarded by the jury.

While the loss of Senator Carnhan, his son, and the aide was tragic, it must be noted that what the PIC chose to do that night was inherently risky - a night IFR flight, in instrument conditions, in some pretty nasty weather. Some might argue that when they assumed the risk of that flight, their decision affected all pilots who rely on the supply of light aircraft and their component parts. It's pretty clear that if some manufacturers cannot limit their liability, they may very well choose to go out of business. In the end, all of general aviation may suffer from the individual choices of just a few pilots.

And so I had to cringe when I saw this notice on an aircraft cover. Are we pilots really so stupid and dimwitted that we need such placards? Apparently some might argue that we are.

6 comments:

SkyCaptain said...

Coincidentally, 11/23's ePilot had a story about Precision Airmotive, presumably finding a suitable business partner.
http://www.aopa.org/aircraft/articles/2007/071120precision.html

Dave Starr said...

delighted to see you back, John. I was just wondering a day or so ago if I had accidentally deleted your RSS feed. Sad about the subject, though, although it needs to be addressed.

In reverse order, I guess it is good that the windshield cover didn't have to carry the warning "Remove Before Flight" ... in a desperate attempt to justify what is undoubtedly just stupidity I suppose a well meaning but hard of thinking pilot might start the engine, let it idle to warm up and then try to remove the cover, perhaps enabling tie downs with the spinning prop ... hey, stop making excuses, Dave, it's just stupid.

More than a year ago I opted out of my "brick and mortar" non-aviation business because of the liability issue. I was selling a little "black box" GPS tracker that went under the dask or in the glove box of a car or truck. The only installation technicality was a requirement for a connection to ground and battery voltage and a silver-dollar sized antenna that mounted inside the windshield on double-stick tape. No can do on liability insurance. If I hire an already insured commercial installer? Oh, ok, yep can do ... except, mounting something on the windshield? No, might cause an accident ... no can do.

This device would be outstanding for rental and instructional aircraft ops as well, but even I wasn't so dumb as to try to work aviation permissions and approvals.

No wonder the dollar is at an all time low and the Wall Street Journal now publishes in Chinese. We Americans can't seem to accept responsibility for _anything_ *sigh*

Anyway, rant switch off and happy landings, guy.

Ron said...

There are so many dumb placards out there that I almost don't even notice them anymore. The classic example is the Superman cape which comes with a disclaimer saying "Warning: cape does not enable user to fly".

Even on airplanes, which by their very nature are ostensibly operated by people with a little more common sense, the placards sometimes approach a level of absurdity which cannot be described. One airplane actually had a placard which proclaimed in a scholarly tone that the engine would not operate without fuel. Chalk up another advantage for the old Stearmans and other warbirds. No idiotic placards lowering the IQ of anyone sitting in the plane.

Dave is right, we can't seem to accept responsibility for anything. No matter what happens, it's always someone else's fault. I recall walking along a famous path between five towns known as Cinque Terre on the Italian coast. The path is narrow, uneven, and drops directly into the ocean 500 feet below. There were no handrails, disclaimers, or lifeguards. It was simply up to the user to determine if it was safe enough to traverse.

I found that refreshing.

Paul Tomblin said...

That "remove before starting" thing would bother me. There have been times when I've needed to start the engine and run it for a few minutes but I'm not going anywhere, and I've just unzipped the door zip and gotten in without removing the cabin cover. I suppose with your cabin cover I'd be in violation of some regulation?

Speaking of stupid legal disclaimers: Sporty's sells coasters made from old sectional and terminal area charts. Each one has written across the bottom "NOT FOR NAVIGATION". I'd sure love to try to fly around New York City class B with just a coaster or two as my navigation source.

brian said...

Our promotions department makes a big poster with instructions to cut out and place over your [aircraft] dash in order to visualize the fancy new things we sell. It even says to us a "non-abrasive adhesive." I don't even know what that means. However, when I, a lowly engineer, joked, "Where's the 'Remove before flight label'?" Nobody else laughed. In fact, they have taken these posters out of circulation to be destroyed.
We also get sued all the time. It seems the manufacturers for every component in an aircraft that is involved in an accident get sued. The odds are high that one or more of them will settle and the lawyers (and maybe the family) will get some money.
I read an accident report for a highly publicized accident where a pilot crashed into a Kentucky Fried Chicken hurting a lot of people. The accident report seemed to point to the fact that the pilot had unauthorized medication in his system that he did not list on his medical. The report indicates he had been perscribed the medication in inordinate amounts for a number of years. The accident report seemed to indicate this was the most prominent contributor to the crash. Somehow, we were still sued in relation to this accident. What's up with that?
One of our engineers said, "There was a time when it was generally accepted that flying an airplane was going to get you killed."

Marc said...

This story and related comments still indicate to me that William Shakepeare had the right idea as it relates to lawyers.