Aviation Law Articles

Aviation Accidents, When to Report

Understandably, there is a reporting requirement for aircraft accidents but there are occasions when mishaps are not necessarily reportable accidents because, technically, an accident did not occur. That is, there is a very specific definition for an “accident.” It is defined as “an occurrence associated with the operation of an aircraft which takes place between the time any person boards the aircraft with the intention of flying, and all such persons have disembarked, and in which any person suffers death or serious injury, or in which the aircraft receives substantial damage.”

Therefore, there is no reportable accident if there was no intention of flight. So, if a mishap occurs while taxiing an aircraft from Point A to Point B, without intending to fly, there is no “accident.”

Similarly, the meaning of “substantial damage” is narrower than might be expected. It only covers damage or structural failure that adversely affects the structural strength, performance or flight characteristics of the aircraft, requiring major repairs or replacement of the component. Importantly, the definition excludes engine failure, bent cowlings, dented or punctured skin, ground propeller strikes or damage to landing gear, wheels, tires, flaps, engine accessories, brakes or wing tips.

Additionally, “serious injury” is limited in meaning to injuries requiring hospitalization in excess of 48 hours, bone fractures (not including fingers, nose or toes), hemorrhage-causing lacerations, nerve, muscle or tendon damage and second, third or more than 5% of body surface burns.

So, as bad as it might be to bend an airplane, the pilot/operator need not make matters worse by reporting an accident that really, strictly speaking, isn’t an “accident.”

by Richard T. Miller, Specialist in Aviation Law – (818) 994-8234