If You Were Involved in a Major Airline Accident, You Need a an Aviation Law Firm

According to the International Air Transportation Administration (IATA), the rate of serious commercial airline accidents has dropped in the past several years and experienced an all-time low in 2012.  Between January 2010 and May 2013, 135 accidents occurred among major U.S. carriers that resulted in injury or aircraft damage.  None of these incidents were fatal.

Given the high volume of air travel and falling accident statistics, there has statistically never been a safer time to travel by air.  However,  advancements in commercial airline transportation and safety have come at a price; it took the hindsight of accidents for lawmakers to review and implement more safety regulations.  In 2012, Bloomberg BusinessWeek published an article entitled “Airline Crash Deaths Too Few to Make New Safety Rules Pay,” which quoted one industry analyst as noting, “the safest decade in modern airline history is making it harder to justify the cost of new [safety] requirements.”

However, a number of major airline disasters have led to major regulatory safety changes in the aviation industry.  Below are several notable cases and the changes they brought about:

United Airlines Flight 718 and TWA Flight 2, Over the Grand Canyon (1956)

A midair collision between the United Airlines DC-7 and Trans World Airlines L-1049 Super Constellation was the first U.S. commercial airline accident to result in more than 100 deaths.  The crash was one of the primary catalysts in raising public attention to the condition of Air Traffic Control at the time, which desperately needed greater staffing and the installation of radar facilities, since the United States was using older navigation facilities and no real-time anti-collision data.  This crash is credited with bringing about the hearings that led to the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which created the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and led to the modernization of domestic airspace control.

Aloha Airlines Flight 243, Maui, Hawaii (1988)

While on an interisland hop from Hilo to Honolulu, Hawaii, the Boeing 737 suffered an explosive decompression.  A section of the fuselage that was one-quarter of the length of the aircraft had separated from the aircraft in flight.  The only casualty was a flight attendant who was swept from her seat outside the aircraft.  The subsequent investigation determined that metal fatigue and corrosion of the 19-year-old aircraft, which operated most of the time in Hawaii’s harsh environment, caused the accident.  The incident led to far-reaching effects in the safety of air carrier maintenance programs and inspection for continuing airworthiness of transportation category aircraft.

Podhurst Orseck attorneys have represented clients in industry-changing litigation.  Two of those cases include the following:

ValuJet Flight 592, Florida Everglades (1996)

Improperly stored company-owned material (COMAT) from a ValuJet contractor aboard this DC-9 caused a fire in the cargo hold of the domestic passenger flight.  One hundred and five passengers and five crew perished when the pilots were unable to land the burning aircraft in time.  This case is credited in causing the FAA to mandate smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in the cargo holds of commercial airliners.  It is also credited for having caused the revision of COMAT policies on aircraft. Podhurst Orseck represented plaintiffs in this industry-changing litigation.

Colgan Air Flight 3407, Buffalo, New York (2009)

The 74-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q400 entered an accelerated stall while on approach to final at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, crashing into a residence on the ground.  In its report of investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board held that the aircraft captain failed to react properly to the aircraft’s stall indications by fighting the aircraft’s stick shaker by pulling back on the yoke in the stall.  The NTSB also found that the crew had failed to monitor airspeed conditions adequately during the approach in icing conditions.  In all, 45 passengers and four additional crewmembers, including one deadheading crew member, were killed.  The crash killed one person in the home on the ground.  The case, which received international attention and has changed the face of commercial passenger aviation, led to a number of FAA rule changes including how check airmen test and grade stall recoveries.  Congress and the FAA have also sought to increase pilot minimum hours for the ATP license and address pilot fatigue in duty limitation regulations. Podhurst Orseck represented plaintiffs in this litigation and was instrumental in seeking industry changes to improve FAA rules and process.