Reports on the Internet and scuttlebutt at airports suggest that some maintenance shops are refusing to work on airplanes that are 18 years old or more.
The reason, these reports say, is that aircraft and parts manufacturers are immune from liability suits once their products reach the age of 18, or 18 years after a component has been installed, under limits set by the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA).
However, when one party is relieved from liability, lawyers find ways to shift it onto someone else and, in this case, “someone else” includes maintenance shops and mechanics.
So far, General Aviation News has found no confirmation that shops have turned away older airplanes or plan to do so. Several aircraft owners associations have posted online messages naming at least two FBOs, but have not returned calls. The FBOs named in the postings have stated flatly that their insurance companies have instituted no liability limitations thus far.
Other shop owners with whom GAN has spoken, in Florida and Maryland, admitted to having heard the rumors but also said that their insurance providers have not brought up the subject. All have acknowledged their concern, however, and said that they plan to watch the situation closely for any changes.
Fundamentally, their concern is that, as more aircraft reach the 18-year Revitalization Act limit, litigation against maintenance businesses could reach a level at which insurers will feel compelled to restrict shops’ coverage. Thus far, all of them said, no trend is detectable but that is no assurance of what the future may bring.
Statistically, the current average age of general aviation aircraft is just shy of 35 years, according to FAA figures. Many of those airplanes can be expected to remain airworthy for years to come, given appropriate maintenance, said the owner of an impeccable Beech 18 in Maryland.
“But I’ll knock on wood,” he said.
A better bet might be Yingling Aviation, the longtime Cessna affiliate at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport.
On Jan. 23, Yingling’s president Lynn Nichols responded emphatically to articles stating that some maintenance facilities are turning away work.
“I would not argue that plaintiff attorneys … will migrate their lawsuits toward aircraft maintenance and avionics facilities when they have a legacy aircraft incident that falls outside the 18-year window GARA represents,” Nichols said. “That is a good reason why all maintenance facilities should have properly trained personnel, impeccable inspection procedures, and quality assurance programs that ensure any discrepancies have been accurately addressed.”
Nichols noted that “more than 90% of our business is (in support of) Cessna legacy aircraft.”
That’s “the kind of service we’re proud to provide,” he added. “It just makes good business sense.”
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