Thursday, July 1, 2010

Retro Review: Aviation Law Monitor



AMAZON SUBSCRIPTION PAGE: Aviation Law Monitor, published by Mike Danko, Danko Law Firm


BLOG'S DESCRIPTION: Insight and commentary on aviation accidents and the law

OUR REVIEW: An excellent blog that every pilot should read. There's no such thing as "accidents" anymore, in the eyes of the law (if indeed there ever was one). Now, regardless of whether an aviation crash is an unavoidable "act of God" or pilot error or what have you, people will come out of the woodwork to sue the pilot, the aircraft manufacturer, the airport from which the plane took off, probably the people who fueled the plane, and the airport at which the plane was supposed to land, not to mention each and every flight instructor the pilot involved ever had, andthe companies that provided the engines or the instruments for the planes, and so on ad nauseum. (It's only a matter of time before the parents of a pilot are sued, for not preventing him/her from taking lessons in the first place!)

Mike Danko is an attorney who specializes in Aviation Law, and he goes into great detail into each aviation accident. Don't worry - he doesn't use a lot of legalese. As long as you know your aviation, you can follow his reports easily. Each report comes complete with a variety of maps, photos of runways, and so on.

Anyone concerned with the future of general aviation should read this blog.

Here's some sample paragraphs:

Once the pilot has reached a safe altitude and has established radio contact with air traffic control, the pilot may attempt the approach procedure again. He may obtain a clearance to fly a different approach procedure from the opposite direction, or he may opt to fly to a different airport where the weather is better.

Investigators report that the accident aircraft, N4175A, "went missed" on his first approach to the airport, and that the accident occurred near the completion of its second approach. On the second approach, the aircraft had successfully descended beneath the clouds. We know that because

a witness on the ground saw the aircraft maneuvering. The witness saw the aircraft suddenly burst into fire, and then saw the aircraft crash. Investigators say that the aircraft exploded in flight because it hit a tree while maneuvering, and the tree ruptured a fuel tank.

The question is not why the aircraft hit a tree. Rather, the question is why the aircraft was maneuvering at all. The approach should have lined up the pilot for landing straight ahead. No turns should have been necessary.

It is true that pilots are permitted, once the runway appears before them, to circle around to land in the other direction if the surface winds require it. But this accident occurred after dark. "Circling to land" in poor weather at night is a challenging undertaking. There is a risk of losing sight of the runway, becoming disoriented in the dark, inadvertently re-entering clouds, or hitting obstacles that are hard to see. That's why the "night circling approach to minimums" is considered the most dangerous of all instrument approaches. Most pilots will not attempt a circling approach at night unless there is no other option. Here, there was an option. If the winds required landing in the other direction, the pilot could simply have flown the other available approach procedure which brings the aircraft straight in to the runway from the west.

The NTSB will now take over the accident investigation. It will be difficult. Air traffic control tapes are often useful in reconstructing accidents such as this one. But there is no control tower at Pine Mountain Lake, and so the pilot would not have been communicating with any air traffic control facility in the final stages of the flight.

NTSB Preliminary Report on Saratoga Crash at Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland, CA (Feb 25, 2010)
-San Jose Mercury News Coverage of the Cessna 310 (Tesla) Crash at East Palo Alto (Feb 25, 2010)
-Piper Saratoga Crash at Pine Mountain Lake Airport in Groveland, CA (Feb 22, 2010)
-Cessna 310 (Tesla) Crash at East Palo Alto: NTSB Probale Cause Investigation) (Feb 20, 2010)
-Eurocoptr EC135 Crash at Cave Creek, Arizona (Food Service of America): Possible Tail Rotor System Malfunction (Feb 18, 2010)

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