Aviation Litigation Update

Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner has a long history of successfully litigating cases involving aircraft crashes. Our extensive experience includes cases against Braniff Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Swiss Air Boeing airplanes, various military aircraft manufacturers, numerous private plane manufacturers. The causes of these crashes involved pilot error, manufacturing defects or both. Over the years we have developed and maintained close professional relationships with several experienced and knowledgeable experts on aircraft failures, involving both the pilot error/negligence and products liability issues. In short, our firm is well equipped, given our experience, knowledge and resources needed, to competently and successfully litigate these complex cases.

As most of you know, a helicopter crashed in Louisiana in January of this year, followed closely by the crash of a small private aircraft near Anahuac, Texas, both resulting in fatalities of pilots and passengers. Our firm has been retained to represent families who are affected by these tragedies. These crashes are still being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and we, in addition to continuing our own investigations and analyses, are monitoring their progress closely. As part of our own continuing investigation, I would like to mention another potentially deadly hazard facing pilots today…birds. It has come to our attention that aircraft crashes frequently involve bird strikes. Though a bird strike might seem a bit obscure, be assured that bird strikes are extremely dangerous and potentially deadly.

Now, a few facts about bird strikes. The number of reported bird strikes was about 5,000 in 2006 and 7,000 in 2007. Keep in mind that about 80% of bird strikes go unreported, so clearly, the problem of bird strikes is more than the stated statistics indicate. The force of the impact on an aircraft depends upon the size and weight of the bird, the velocity, and the direction at the point of impact. Even with a small bird, an aircraft traveling at a high speed can cause considerable and potentially deadly damage. For instance, the impact of a 12-pound bird colliding with an aircraft traveling at 150 m.p.h. equals that of a half ton weight dropped from a height of ten feet.

Additionally, there is a 15% chance that the point of impact on a GA aircraft would be the windshield. Obviously, this exposes the pilot to an increased risk of serious bodily injury from the collision alone, as well as the possibility of not being able to properly control the aircraft. Pilots should pay close attention during the bird-migration seasons in the spring (March & April) and the fall (September & October). An increased number of bird strikes occur during the fall migration because large flocks move over a shorter period of time, as opposed to the spring migration which are slower and more irregular. Though in-air bird strikes are a huge problem, pilots must not forget that birds are also a problem for landing aircraft, as they can have a tendency to congregate on the runway as well.

Interestingly, the vast majority of bird strikes occur during takeoff/climb and approach/landing. Also, about 90% of bird strikes occur on or near airports, and those airports near water have a tremendously hard time limiting the bird population for pilots and air passengers alike. Further, pilots should understand that the altitudes of migrating birds vary with winds aloft, weather fronts, cloud conditions, terrain elevations, and numerous other environmental variables. The birds like higher altitudes as there is less drag where the air is thinner, making it more effortless to fly.

Therefore, not only must pilots be aware of other aircraft and dangerous weather, a good pilot must also be on the lookout for migratory birds-as they are just as potentially dangerous as anything else a pilot may confront while navigating through the air.