Federal Investigators Overlook Design Defects in Small Planes

In the last fifty years almost 45,000 people have been killed in incidents involving private planes and helicopters. This is almost nine times the number of people that have died in commercial airline crashes. Federal investigators cite pilots as causing or contributing factors in 86% of private crashes.

An investigation done by the newspaper USA TODAY reveals that in repeated instances the cause of those crashes were defective parts and dangerous designs, casting doubt on the government’s official rulings.

The manufacturers have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements thus far with little public disclosure. These settlements directly contradict the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board which conducts minor investigations into these crashes.

USA TODAY reviewed thousands of pages of aviation company records, lawsuits, and government memoranda and found design and manufacturing defects implicated in a series of fatal crashes of small planes and helicopters including: helicopter fuel tanks that rupture and ignite easily causing passengers to be burned alive after low-impact crashes that were otherwise survivable; pilot seats that suddenly slide backwards, making airplanes nose-dive when pilots lose grip of the controls; ice-protection systems that fail to keep airplane wings clean during flight and fail to warn pilots of dangerous ice buildup that causes crashes; helicopter blades that flap wildly in flight and separate from the mast or cut through the helicopter tail; and airplane exhaust systems that leak exhaust gas, causing engine fires among other defects.

For example, after a crash in Iowa involving a crash of a four-seater Piper Cherokee where the airplane elevated briefly and plunged into a field where it exploded into flames, the aviation company paid $19 million for a settlement after spending much of the litigation blaming the pilot. Precision Airmotive, the manufacturer of the carburetor received more than 100 warranty claims concerning carburetor defects. None of this information was discovered by the National Transportation Safety Board during their investigation.

If you or someone you know have been injured as a result of an airplane or helicopter defect, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner by calling (713) 222-7211 or 713-222-7211.