Airline Corporate Negligence
Attorneys Pursuing Accountability for Airline Corporate Negligence
A common factor contributing to plane crashes is airline corporate negligence.
Many crashes can be attributed to decisions that were made in the boardroom,
which have bearing on the actions in the cockpit. The airline is responsible
for the proper training of its flight crew, maintenance of the plane and
overall operation during flight. When the airline fails to meet its duties
in any of these areas, disaster can strike.
With decades of experience handling plane crashes and helicopter accidents,
we have seen an unfortunate trend in charter company and airline corporate
negligence, tracing back to what could have been preventable deaths or
injuries. This negligence often stems from a corporate culture that has
consistently placed profits over safety.
Charter plane companies and large airlines pressure their own employees in a number of ways in
an attempt to increase their profit margins. Just as planes are adding
more and more seats and offering fewer and fewer amenities in order to
make more money on each flight, similar cuts are being made in common
sense safety considerations in order to boost profits.
Wisner Baum is recognized as a leader in aviation accident law. Our firm
has handled over 70 commercial airline crashes and incidents across the
nation and internationally, including crashes involving airline corporate
Common Flight Safety Issues Created by Airline Corporate Negligence
Flight Turnaround: Employees are pushed to be on time to the gate so that planes can be
turned around faster-resulting in more profits for the airline. This means
that pilots can be rushed during pre-flight safety checks if they are
delayed in taking off. Any maintenance work or mechanical issues may also
be hurried to meet the flight deadlines. When a flight is delayed it results
in more paperwork, ticket cancellations or rescheduling for passengers
and a host of other extra work that the company must do to make up for
the late plane. This adds up to lost profits and everyone from pilots
to mechanics can be pressured to get planes in the air on time, even if
that means neglecting crucial safety steps.
Aborted Landings: It is not uncommon for weather conditions or imperfect positioning to
lead a pilot to feel that they should perform a “go-around,”
which is the colloquial term for bypassing the airstrip and performing
a second landing attempt. Because of airline corporate pressure placing
an emphasis on timing, some pilots are hesitant to abort a landing even
if they believe it to be unsafe. An aborted landing and re-attempt takes
more time, consumes more fuel, and requires additional paperwork-which
also takes more time and slows turnaround. Many pilots are caused to feel
under pressure to avoid “go-arounds” because of fear it will
look bad on their record, and will require uncomfortable demands for explanation
by their superiors. A perfect example of this is the 1999 crash in
Little Rock, Arkansas, American Airlines Flight 1420. The flight crew decided to land during a severe thunderstorm despite
warnings by air traffic control. Eleven people were killed in the crash-the
captain and ten passengers.
Insufficient Training: Airlines are responsible for the proper training and supervision of flight
crew. However, we have found that many pilots are not properly trained
in all aspects of their plane. For example, airlines install automatic
braking systems on planes, but often fail to provide sufficient training
on the devices. Excuses are made that the avoidance of the system is intended
to keep pilots in control by not allowing them to rely on automatic systems.
The truth is that regular utilization of the auto brake system requires
more brake maintenance and thus cuts into profits. The 2013 crash of Asiana
Airlines Flight OZ214 was due, in part, to inadequate training of its
pilots concerning the auto-throttle system. The pilots were confused by
the system. They expected the auto-throttle to keep the plane at a safe
speed. However, they did not know that it could not do so while at the
setting they selected for it. Because they relied entirely on the automation,
they did not look outside their windshield, and so failed to realize that
they were too slow and too low during the landing approach. The plane’s
landing gear and the tail struck the seawall that rises from the San Francisco
Bay just before the runway threshold, resulting in the Boeing 777 crashing
and breaking apart along the runway at SFO. Many passengers and crew were
badly injured and three passengers were killed.
Crew Resource Management: Too often, crews are not properly trained to safely coordinate their
cockpit responsibilities. During the demanding and busy times of takeoff
and landing, crews must be trained to focus exclusively on their respective
tasks, and to recognize when all is not well. The training must encourage
intervention when a crew member recognizes an unsafe condition developing,
and this must be done regardless of rank. Thus, the training must empower
the First Officer not only to call an unsafe condition to the attention
of the Captain, but also to intervene if appropriate correction is not
made. Failure to do so can result in tragedy.
Flight Crew Stress: There are federal regulations in place governing how long a pilot can
work without receiving proper rest. For decades, Wisner Baum has observed
a substantial push back from airlines against any new or improved regulations
meant to combat pilot and flight crew fatigue. Airlines complain that
letting pilots sleep more would cost them money and
consistently put their profits above passenger safety.
Flight attendants are also responsible for many safety duties throughout
the plane-from properly closing overhead bins to engaging or disarming
emergency chutes and otherwise assisting during emergencies. Although
they adhere to federal regulations requiring rest periods, the constant
time changes, disruptions and other factors make it difficult for pilots
and crew to find proper rest, even though they are “off-duty.”
It goes without saying that acceptance of allowing sleep deprived pilots
and crew to operating a plane, is an obvious act of airline corporate
negligence. One of the causes of the crash of
Continental Connection Flight 3407 near Buffalo, New York in 2009 was due to pilot fatigue. The NTSB determined that the crew was set up
for fatigue and inattention before they ever took off, partly, because
of the structure of the commuter airline business. Fifty people died as
a result of this crash.
Reducing Fuel Levels: Airlines are pushing pilots to fly with as
little fuel as possible in order to increase profits. This leaves pilots carrying large numbers of people with little room
for error, delay or changes in flight plans. If an airport is closed for
an unexpected reason, pilots of commercial aircraft may not have enough
fuel to make it to a second airport where weather conditions or other
unexpected emergency might require extended additional time in the air.
This could also make it difficult for a pilot to change course or turn
back, should the plane experience mechanical issues. Several airlines
have declared “fuel-emergencies” that have forced landings
at closed airports or caused planes to turn back mid-flight due to not
having enough fuel to safely reach their destinations. Federal Aviation
Regulations (FARs) require sufficient fuel to get to the destination airport,
and from there to an alternate airport, and an additional 45 minutes worth
of fuel remaining for emergency situations.
Paperwork Avoidance: Additional paperwork is sometimes avoided at all costs and as a result,
some pilots feel pushed to fly when they feel the equipment is unsafe
or to make landings that should have been aborted. Whether a flight needs
to be rescheduled due to delay or a plane needs a new gate, additional
paperwork will have to be filed. This is also the case when an incident
is reported, a maintenance issue with the plane occurs or second landing
attempt is required. This paperwork is time consuming and in an industry
where time is money, flight crews are encouraged to do everything possible
to avoid creating what the airlines view as “unnecessary”
paperwork, even when that means their flights are less safe.
Other Ways to Cut Costs: To cut costs, some
airlines outsource maintenance to third party contractors who may not have any experience with that particular type of plane or
aircraft part. This cost saving technique can result in shoddy maintenance
and unsafe aircrafts and flights.
At Wisner Baum, our experienced aviation accident lawyers are trusted by
colleagues, the press and-most importantly-by surviving crash victims
and families of fatal crash victims. We have over 40 years of experience
handling personal injury and wrongful death claims resulting from air
disasters.* We find answers, offer caring support and pursue justice against
airline corporate negligence and other causes of airline disasters. Based
in Los Angeles, California, we represent clients throughout the United
States and across the globe.