The FAA governs a wide variety of activities in relation to aviation in the USA: from flight operations, aircraft manufacture and pilot activity. The vast majority of aviation accidents occur at a relatively low height – either before, during or after take off or landing. A much smaller number of crashes occur in mid-flight. After a crash, the National Transport Safety Board, amongst other authorities, investigate what caused the accident although these findings are not permitted to form part of any subsequent court proceedings.
The most common cause of aviation accidents is human error, usually by the pilot (53% of all accidents) or other person (8% of all accidents.) Although the error made by the pilot usually occurs during the flight or whilst taxiing on the runway, other errors occur outside the aircraft, for example during maintenance work, fuelling, or while loading the aircraft. The Federal Aviation Administration controls air traffic through the Air Traffic Control System, or ATC. If there is a question as to whether an air traffic controller may have been at fault, e.g. after a mid-air collision, then it may be that the US Government is liable for damages.
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One in every five aviation accidents is as a result of some sort of mechanical failure, whether the problem arises from the aircraft, its equipment or one particular part. In other cases, the mechanical failure can be a contributory factor in the outcome of the accident, once there has been some kind of human error. Equipment can fail, there can be structural or design problems and if the aircraft is not maintained or repaired properly these can also contribute to an aviation accident.
Other causes of aviation accidents include weather conditions and sabotage (shoot-downs, hijackings, and bombs.) Although weather can make air travel hazardous, it is often the case that the actions of people or failures in mechanical systems are also contributory causes to the accident.
There are several different issues to consider in terms of the legal aspects of the causes of an aviation accident. As there are many different parties involved in the ownership, operation and regulation of aircraft the circumstances must be examined in detail to establish liability: it may be a case of strict liability for a defective product claim – in this instance the aircraft as a whole, a particular aspect of its assembly, or a specific part.) There may also have been a violation of FAA regulations.
Investigations are usually made particularly complex because there could be different elements that caused the aviation accident. It is important not only to establish what happened in relation to the accident, but also to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
There are complex issues in determining the cause of aviation accidents. If you or someone you know has been involved in an aviation accident speak to a specialist personal injury lawyer without delay.