Aviation law is a collection of regulations covering almost all legal issues surrounding airplane and airport operations. It includes:
- Pilot licensing requirements
- Air traffic control rules, and
- Aircraft maintenance rules
The primary goal of aviation law is to ensure the safety of air passengers and crew in the United States and throughout the world.
Who Creates and Enforces Aviation Laws in the United States?
In the US, each state has the power to create and enforce its drug, firearm, and traffic laws. However, the states have very little authority when it comes to aviation law.
The vast majority of aviation laws in the US are written at the federal level and enforced by one or more of the following agencies:
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA): This federal agency regulates almost all aspects of civil aviation in the United States. It is also responsible for enforcing aviation law over surrounding international waters.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA): This federal agency is primarily responsible for ensuring the traveling public’s safety in the United States.
- The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB): This federal agency investigates aviation accidents and regulates aircraft safety.
The United States government updates its aviation laws regularly. These changes often respond to well-publicized accidents and developments in aircraft technology.
Types of Aviation Laws in the United States
There are thousands of aviation statutes and regulations in the United States – the vast majority of which fall into one of the following categories:
Pilot Licensing and Certification Laws
The FAA enforces a wide range of rules that dictate an individual’s steps to obtain and maintain a valid pilot’s license.
For example, according to US law, people who wish to earn a private pilot certificate must:
- Be able to read, write, speak, and understand English
- Hold a student pilot or recreational pilot certificate
- Receive flight training and a logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor
- Complete a written knowledge exam
- Take a practical test with an FAA examiner, and
- Be at least 17 years of age on the date of their practical test
Similarly, people who want to obtain a multi-engine rating must undergo a medical examination, earn endorsements from an authorized instructor, and pass a check ride with a pilot examiner.
Aircraft Navigation Rules
Once an individual qualifies as a pilot in the US, they must ensure they adhere to all applicable aircraft navigation rules every time they step into a cockpit.
For example, according to 14 CFR § 91.129:
“Unless required by the applicable distance-from-cloud criteria, each pilot operating a large or turbine-powered airplane must enter the traffic pattern at an altitude of at least 1,500 feet above the elevation of the airport and maintain at least 1,500 feet until further descent is required for a safe landing.”
Similarly, 14 CFR § 91.133 states that:
“No person may operate an aircraft within a restricted area contrary to the restrictions imposed, or within a prohibited area, unless that person has the permission of the using or controlling agency.”
Aircraft navigation rules can even change with the weather. Per 14 CFR § 91.144:
“When any information indicates that barometric pressure on the route of flight currently exceeds or will exceed 31 inches of mercury, no person may operate an aircraft or initiate a flight.”
These navigation standards help reduce aviation accidents by ensuring all pilots know what is expected of them in any given situation.
Individuals who violate these navigation rules can have their pilot’s license suspended or revoked.
Aircraft Construction and Maintenance Regulations
A wide range of regulations in the US dictates the methods manufacturers must use to construct aircraft. There are also many laws regarding the maintenance of those aircraft.
For instance, 14 CFR § 43.7 states:
“No person, other than the [Federal Aviation] Administrator, may approve an aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, or component part for return to service after it has undergone maintenance, preventive maintenance, rebuilding, or alteration.”
Similarly, 14 CFR § 43.9 explains:
“Each person who maintains, performs preventive maintenance, rebuilds, or alters an aircraft, airframe, aircraft engine, propeller, appliance, or component part shall make an entry in the maintenance record.”
Manufacturers, airlines, and technicians who violate these rules can face severe penalties. The FAA alone levies millions of dollars in fines each year.
14 CFR § 43.12 states that any person found falsifying, reproducing, or altering a maintenance record may have their airman, operator, or production certificate revoked or suspended.
How Aviation Law May Impact Personal Injury Cases
When passengers sustain injuries in aviation accidents, they can pursue compensation by filing personal injury lawsuits against the at-fault parties.
To win such a lawsuit, plaintiffs generally need to prove that:
- The defendant owed them a duty of care
- The defendant breached that duty of care by behaving in a negligent manner
- The defendant’s negligence caused them to suffer an injury, and
- Their injury forced them to incur economic damages
It can be quite challenging to prove that an aircraft manufacturer or airline acted negligently in some cases. However, it becomes much easier if a personal injury lawyer can show that the FAA or NTSB has published a report that confirms the defendant violated aviation law.
For instance, if a woman sustains a traumatic brain injury in a helicopter crash caused by pilot error, and it is later proven that the pilot was improperly certified, a judge is likely to find that both the pilot and their employer acted negligently.
Once negligence has been proven, it becomes much more straightforward for the victim to claim the compensation they deserve.
Houston Expert Aviation Lawyers
Did you recently sustain an injury in an aviation accident? If so, please do not hesitate to set up a free consultation with a skilled personal injury lawyer from Williams Hart & Boundas Boundas LLP. Our attorneys are experts in aviation law, and we are ready to help you fight for the compensation you deserve.