A father and son were both injured in their 1974 experimental plane that took off from Williston Florida, Sunday, February 21. The 65-year-old father and his son 40-year-old son had taken off successfully, but when they were returning to the Williston Airport Sunday morning, the plane took a nose dive, landing upside down. Both men were taken to Shands Hospital but reported to be in stable condition. According to the Levy County Sheriff’s department, the two had taken off for a Sunday morning flight in their home- built plane.
Thankfully, this plane crash did not result in deadly consequences. These two men are counting their blessings, I’m sure.
There has been a 600 percent increase in the number of homebuilt airplanes since the 1970s, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. They are much less expensive than single-engine general aviation aircraft. But the FAA allows anybody to buy the plans and assemble the parts for an aircraft. There are at least 25,000 experimental aircraft homebuilt in the U.S. though many are based on conventional design. This aircraft can be built and flown by any licensed pilot and the aircraft must be certified for flight by an examiner.
Experimental aircraft can raise serious liability concerns. Small experimental aircraft don’t have the same FAA requirements as factory-built aircraft and the homemade planes are more dangerous as a result. People literally can build them in their garage. Experimental aircraft can use automotive or motorcycle engines.
The Experimental Aircraft Association is a group of folks who build their own planes. There are an estimated 28,000 experimental aircraft on the FAA register, a number that’s increasing by about 1,000 aircraft a year for the past 15 years. This group will tell you that experimental are just as safe as factory built planes. Both the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board show the accident rate for home-built airplanes is just about one percent higher than for certified planes, with the exclusion of military and commercial aircraft.
As far as liability, kit manufacturers often do not have liability insurance, which makes it difficult to collect any judgment against assets. That alone is enough to dissuade most attorneys from taking those cases. There is an effort underway by kit manufacturers to purchase Product Liability Insurance from Lloyds of London.
The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 gives a general shield from product liability lawsuits if the plane has been in operation for 18 years, that time being determined from when the first component was delivered. GARA applies to FAA certified aircraft which would include amateur aircraft that is certified. However if a plane is defective based on how it was assembled or the kit parts, there will be product liability exposure for the manufacturer and/or the builder.
The bottom line is that builders don’t want to kill themselves and they are putting a lot of faith in kit manufacturers. That’s why research is imperative. Avoid being the first person to fly a new model. There’s no need to be a test pilot for the company. If you have any questions about your experimental plane accident, a Florida accident and aviation attorney will be willing to have a free consultation to discuss your case.