Long Arm of the Law

Lycoming’s Dilemma

One of the reasons flying is expensive is that liability insurance and the cost of lawsuits are passed on to the pilot. Today, Lycoming Engines (Division of Textron) said the company will appeal an $89 million verdict involving a 1999 crash of a Piper Cherokee Six. The long arm of the law can reach back over 40 years. The aircraft that crashed was built in 1968. Lycoming sold the engine to Piper in 1967.

This verdict was especially surprising because it was decided in spite of the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994,which provides limitations on lawsuits against aircraft and  component manufacturers eighteen years after the product was first sold. The other surprise: The NTSB determined it was pilot error:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: The pilot’s loss of control of the airplane during a turn. Factors include the pilot’s failure maintain sufficient airspeed, and his failure to maintain the airplane in proper trim.

In the 1980’s over 90,000 general aviation jobs eventually were lost as plants closed. This was due in large part to the rise in damage awards and liability insurance costs associated with the manufacture of general aviation aircraft. Manufacturers passed along costs to their customers.  Private aircraft had liability insurance expenses of approximately 40% of each plane produced.  Lawsuits occur in the majority of all crashes even though pilot error is responsible for 85 percent of them.

Today, most piston powered airplanes are powered by Lycoming engines. I’ve been to their facility in Williamsport, PA and it’s top notch with a focus on designing and producing the best engines around. I hope litigation doesn’t drive more suppliers and OEM’s away from general aviation. It takes a lot of revenue and retained earnings to pay for one of these and ,after a while, investors will want to park their money elsewhere.

What is the goal? Is it  to drive manufacturers out of business with punitive lawsuits (Parker Hannifin no longer makes vacuum pumps) or is it to make as much money as possible for the lawyers and plaintiffs? I don’t pretend to understand the legal profession but some lawsuits stretch the imagination.

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One response to “Long Arm of the Law

  1. Nobody would ever sue an auto manufacturer for a driver losing control of a vehicle on an icy road…they should have slowed down or put on chains would be the verdict. Lose control of an airplane and someone is going to have the bright idea that somehow the engine or vacuum pump or rotating beacon should have taken control of the aircraft and landed it safely without pilot intervention.

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