General Aviation Industry Making Slow Rebound

Article excerpt

Product liability and overregulation nearly killed the nation's general aviation industry, but it's making a slow rebound, according to an Oklahoma City attorney who specializes in aviation law.

In too many cases, jury awards were too high for the amount of damage, which has led to a "sue-happy mentality" among many Americans, according to attorney Rocklin D. Lyons of the firm of Morgan, Allen, Lyons & Taylor.

"Everyone in the United States at some time or other has heard or read about these huge damage awards," he said. "When I was a kid there was a television program ("The Millionaire") where Mr. Anthony would deliver someone a check each week for $1 million. We all dreamed that we could be the next person Mr. Anthony called on.

"Now, it appears as if the lawsuit has taken Mr. Anthony's place as the dream for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow."

This mentality forced many manufacturers of small airplanes to cease production or drastically curtail operations. This meant the price of small airplanes has grown dramatically over the past decade because the cost of insurance, attorney fees, court costs and damage awards was passed directly to the consumer.

Some recreational or weekend fliers and some small business airplane operators have been forced out of the industry because of these higher costs, he said.

Even though some manufacturers have restarted their assembly lines, there still is limited production of small airplanes. Most aviation production is for either commercial airliners or business-class airplanes.

"There's no easy answer to this problem," Lyons said. "One thing we need is tort reform. There must be some changes in tort law in the United States.

"But, it doesn't do a lot of good for just one state to reform tort laws, it needs to be done nationwide.

"Unlike many of my brethern in the legal profession, I feel that product liability is a national question and must be addressed by federal legislation. All it will take is for one of Oklahoma's senators or congressmen to introduce a bill and arrange for someone in the other house to introduce a similar bill. Then we could get this out in the open and have discussions on it."

Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration react quickly and severely every time there's an airplane crash involving commerical air carriers, he said. The result is too much regulation.

"When there's a crash with 200 people killed, Congress gets moving and tells the FAA to get moving, that something needs to be done to prevent this type of accident from happening again," he said. "There's nothing wrong with that. Except there are maybe an average of two airplane crashes a year, which means less than 500 people are killed due to commercial airline crashes in this country.

"Yet we kill that many people and more every day on our nation's highways and there's no big hue and cry over that."

The FAA must respond to congressional demands, Lyons said, just like any other federal agency. But in the rush to regulate the aviation industry in the United States, the agency "has forgotten that somewhere back there in its charter, there's a provision that it must foster aviation. …