$11.35 million: What will it cost you?

Dec. 18, 2011: One of the largest air crash disaster verdicts was handed down by a Philadelphia jury, which awarded $11.35 million in compensatory damages to Dr. Robert Marisco Jr. and his fiancee Heather Moran, both of Akron, Ohio, in an action against Winner Aviation Corp.

I must first state I am very sorry for their injuries and suffering in this crash. It seems an error chain is what caused the accident, as usual, and each link in that chain has a part to claim.

As the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA), we must address a concern we have expressed for years based on our country’s legal system, as well as a few other issues this affects.

More than 10 years ago, I can recall my predecessor, Brian Finnegan, setting up a scenario much like the accident that occurred on Aug. 8, 2007, and the jury trial afterward. As an A&P or a repair facility, you maintain an aircraft per Part 91 requirements, which means Service Bulletins (SB), Service Letters (SL) and Recommended Overhaul Times may not be required to be completed to release an aircraft as airworthy.

So the question is presented: “Did you tell the owner about all of the SLs, SBs, and overhaul recommendations due on their aircraft?”

More importantly to you, the Airframe and Powerplant Mechanic (A&P): Did you write it down and give it to them? If you just told them verbally, what would happen in court in front of a jury? The manufacturer recommends this maintenance be performed, and who better than the manufacturer to recommend that? Certainly, not you, the technician, right? Do you really think the jury would see it any other way?

You can look at the NTSB report NYC07LA187 and review their findings. But that is inadmissible in court per 49 C.F.R. §835.2: “No part of [the board’s accident report, which contains the board’s determinations, including the probable cause of an accident] may be admitted as evidence or used in any suit or action for damages growing out of any matter mentioned in such reports.” I understand and agree with this for the purpose of overall safety.

In the report you will see the front engine was maintaining power, although it was kept at the top of the green arc and not redlined as the emergency procedures allow. It also states, “The examinations of both engines, including the accessories, revealed extensive thermal damage. Of those items that could be examined, including the internal engine parts, there was no evidence of any anomaly to either engine that would have precluded normal operation prior to the accident.”

How about the CFRs? Here is what they say:

14 CFR Part 91.7 Civil Aircraft Airworthiness:

(a) No person may operate a civil aircraft unless it is in an airworthy condition.

(b) The pilot in command of a civil aircraft is responsible for determining whether that aircraft is in condition for safe flight. The pilot in command shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

14 CFR Part 91.403 General:

(a) The owner or operator of an aircraft is primarily responsible for maintaining that aircraft in an airworthy condition, including compliance with Part 39 of this chapter.

Yes, you see who is responsible now — maybe. But our industry is based on trust; sometimes very understated, yet a very important trust — the trust between pilots and mechanics. Orville and Wilbur had Charles Taylor, who built their engine from scratch, and then they proceeded to be launched off a hill, trusting the engine would perform, and that started where we are today.

So back to what will it cost you — let’s make a the list. First of all, more documentation, either supplied by the owner or subscribed to by the maintenance provider. A facility like Winner Aviation almost certainly has a general aviation maintenance library that initially cost them more than $40,000 and annually renews for around $12,000. A responsible maintenance provider looking to be covered for all possible liabilities may need to add additional content to their libraries.

In addition to that is the research time. Traditionally an owner brings in a SB or SL to the maintenance provider and asks “Should I do this?” or “How much would it take to do this?” Now the maintenance provider, as has been suggested many years back, should research every SB, SL, and overhaul recommendation on each airframe, engine, propeller and component on the Part 91 aircraft — not just the ones associated with Airworthiness Directives (AD). Then the maintenance provider must record this on documentation given to the aircraft owner and operator. This adds more expense, which must be passed on as a business to the customer. The price of clear documented communication: $11.35 million.

There is another point I would like to address. One of the attorneys for Dr. Marsico and Ms. Moran said: “By reaching this verdict, the jury sends an important message to the airplane repair community — safety of flight for pilots and their passengers is of utmost importance and there can be no shortcomings whatsoever when it comes to the care, inspection, and maintenance of airplanes; and that those who endanger the lives of the flying public will be held accountable for their misconduct.”

If you really believe any licensed aircraft maintenance professional doesn’t think that the safety of flight of that aircraft isn’t of the utmost importance to them, you are very wrong. Since being involved in aircraft maintenance for more than 30 years, personally working with more than 100 A&Ps at different facilities and speaking to more than several thousand in different venues, I have never met anyone to make me think differently.

There are many who leave the industry before they arrive. At Part 147 schools the responsibility of being a certificated mechanic is made clear. If the student doesn’t like what they hear, they leave right there.

As an aircraft owner you stay with a shop or individual because of the unspoken trust and feeling of responsibility a professional certificated mechanic bestows in you.

I bring all of this up because of the multiple issues it covers — liability, responsibility, cost, and education, including education of the general public regarding who an aircraft mechanic is. They are not grease monkeys who come across like the representation of Lowell on the old television program “Wings.” A&Ps have worked on aircraft for relatively low pay and little recognition for many years. Our satisfaction comes from working on complicated machines that are fast and sleek. Most of all, they fly. We proudly keep them that way safely!

We have spent 1,900 hours or more just to take and pass three written tests, three oral exams, and three practical (hands-on) exams. Single-engine pilots at the controls of their aircraft took about 60 hours and only one of each test, written, oral, and practical, to become a licensed pilot. Mechanics start their careers with 30 times that! Individuals who have earned bachelor degrees only spent around 1,700 hours to get their degrees and have not passed any ultimate final exams covering their entire education. A&Ps also are part of the only maintenance profession certified by the federal government!

Please remember to thank an aircraft mechanic once in a while. Failure is not an option to them — their confidence comes from their competence. If they were not confident, they couldn’t sleep at night. Remember we are professional from the ground up!

And be ready for some changes to come as a pilot as this lawsuit gets more attention in the industry.

 

Dale Forton is president of the Professional Aviation Maintenance Association (PAMA). Find out more about PAMA at PAMA.org

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says

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    What wrong with this picture – a LOT!

  2. Anonymous says

    What’s Wrong?, This Is:
    When an airplane crash occurs, only money can help heal the pain caused by the tragedy. Air crash victims’ families and any survivors can find great wealth in determining a convenient and necessary reason for the plane crash. They look for ways to prevent an uninsured air tragedy from happening again. With our highly paid experts identifying the necessary facts depending on who we need to blame and determining the monetary responsibility behind air crashes, and raising a jury’s awareness about aviation safety issues, no matter how insignificant and irrelevant, and how much a giant insurance company should be willing to give away, has been the driving force behind the aviation law practice of The W*** Law Firm. Oh yea, and paying for my three homes, two ex-wives, wife, mistress, viagra, childrens college tuitions, boats, cars, fancy office building, bought and paid for Aviation Experts, and actually airplanes ( that I only maintain to Part 91 minimum requirements myself )
    I think that a jury of your peers should mean 12 compassionate experienced aviation  professionals at these trials. Pilots, Engineers, and Mechanics. Then we might get to the truth, not just a verdict that favors the lawyer that is best able to convince 12 people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. But no government would ever agree to that, since the government is full of lawyers, or people taking large sums of money from lawyers.
    The engine that failed was probably over recommended TBO, and the owner sure as hell knew it, and probably couldn’t afford to do all the recommended maint. on an old twin that sells for less than a decent single engine aircraft. The shop who lost the law suit probably hadn’t done any contributing maint. on it, or I think that the NTSB or FAA may have picked up on it. ( Just look at the Aerostar in PA that the cylinder fell off right after takeoff, and right after it was put on. No insurance, no money, no big Philadelphia Law Firm to help you find the “TRUTH” ) But if you gave me the name of who was best insured, and the facts of the crash, and paid me enough to lay out a scenario to get from point A to point B and make the right guy at fault. Oh, the yarn that I could contrive.
    But if I was the pilot, who was in a twin, and had an engine failure at 3000 ft, 4 miles from the nearest runway, and I decided to go to a runway 10 miles away for I’m sure, the sake of convenience, and I ended up making an off airport landing and someone other than me ( who deserved it ) got hurt. I would be too ashamed to sue anyone. And I would feel morally obliged to testify that nobody was at fault but me. No matter how bad the Attorney needed the money.

  3. Dennis Reiley says

    So what was the lawsuit about. Without the reason behind your effort, no one can judge the value of that effort. Some juries award damages when they shouldn’t. Nothing a business can do will affect that because it’s all in the hands of the lawyers.

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