Despite the statistics showing air travel to be one of the safest modes of transportation, air travel is not a risk free mode of tranportation. In fact, as air travel increases, the risk of an aviation accident also increases. It is worth pointing out that aviation accidents actually occur more frequently than publicized, though many are minor and don’t result in injuries. At the same time, however, aviation accidents can sometimes result in serious injuries, or even the dealths of hundreds of passengers, especially after impact with a body of water or treacherous landscape.
Just today, the government has decided to order emergency checks of certain older model Boeing Co. 797s for the kind of fatigue cracks that prompted Southwest Airlines Co. to cancel hundreds of flights after one of them made an emergency landing last Friday due to a hoe in its fuselage. The order will cover 175 planes worldwide. Most of the planes that need checks are in the United States and flown by Southwest. Thankfully the incident did not lead to a serious accident. The plane was able to land in one piece with no injuries reported. If that Southwest flight had ended catastrophically, figuring out the liable parties would have been an extremely challenging job.
Determining responsibility after an aviation accident is usually a complex process, involving numerous parties, such as the pilot, air traffic controllers, equipment manufacturers, and so on. As a result, all civil aviation accidents are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent agency responsible for investigating aviation accidents and publishing reports based on its findings. Depending on the cause of the accident, the liable party could include the owner operator of the airplane, the manufacturer, the parts or maintenance suppliers, or the federal government. When the government is liable for aviation accidents, it is subject to special rules and regulations. However, most aviation accidents are subject to general aviation law as determined by state and federal authorities, regardless of responsibility.