Just how exposed are pilots to civil and criminal proceedings?

Its probably a good time to revisit pilot exposure to both civil and criminal proceedings in the wake of the Costa Concordia grounding off the coast of Italy. And while a guest post on the Thirty Thousand Feet blog by Michael W. Johnson, the President and CEO of Paramount Aviation Resources Group, does not mention the recent maritime tragedy, the post was motivated by the conviction for involuntary manslaughter of Continental Airlines mechanic John Taylor for the crash of the Concorde flight AF4590.

Specifically, Michael noted that one of the interesting (and perhaps even scary) aspects of this case was the fact that Taylor, who is an aircraft mechanic living and working in Texas, was both charged and convicted of the crime despite the fact that he has never entered the jurisdiction of the court that ruled on the case. Michael then cited other examples of pilots or aircraft crew being held liable for accidents, including:

  • A  court in Lebanon convicted the captain of UTA Flight 141 in October 2010 and jailed him for 20 years after a December 2003 crash after his aircraft took off 20,000 pounds over the maximum allowable gross takeoff weight.
  • A court in Italy convicted and gave jail sentences to both the captain and co-involved in the 2005 Tuninter Flight 1153 crash off the coast of Sicily after ruling they failed to take adequate emergency measures prior to the crash.
  • A court in Brazil charged two American corporate pilots following a mid-air collision that caused the 2006 crash of a B-737 over Brazil – despite evidence that places the blame for the tragedy on Brazilian ATC.
  • A Japan Airlines (JAL) pilot was indicted for professional negligence in the death of a crewmember and for 14 passenger injuries after a 1997 in-flight turbulence incident. Although the pilot was found not-guilty, his career and reputation were irreparably damaged.

Michael then made the point that pilots and crew members can never be complacent – especially given how much the law can vary from one jurisdiction to another and how all crew members can be held accountable for the actions or inactions of another. Michael also provided a list of good operating procedures that can help to mitigate the potential exposure to legal liabilities by pilots and crew members.

Hence, Michael’s entire post is a must read – whether you are a commercial pilot, a private general aviation pilot or involved in aviation some other way.

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