General Aviation Revitalization Act


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The General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA) was designed to protect businesses that manufacture small private aircrafts or aircraft parts from liability for accidents caused by older aircraft or airplane parts.  General aviation refers to developing, building, and selling smaller aircrafts for private, non-commercial flights. Congress was concerned that companies were paying inordinately large settlements for accidents caused by aircrafts or parts that were decades old.  For example, if an accident occurred in a 40-year-old plane, the original manufacturer could be held liable for the deaths or injuries of the passengers in the event of an accident caused by defective aircraft or aircraft parts.

Manufacturer Liability for Aircraft Accidents

According to the law, manufacturers cannot be sued for accidents caused by planes or aircraft parts that were delivered to the first purchaser or bought by the first purchaser more than 18 years before an accident occurs.  This 18-year period is known as the statue of repose, and applies to the aircraft itself, and any additions or alterations made to the original aircraft.  GARA’s 18-year period covers small planes, helicopters, and sea planes, and may even extend to home-built planes if they have an airworthiness certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Requirements to Fly: GARA and Airworthiness Certificates

In order to fly, planes must receive an airworthiness certificate from the FAA.  There are two types of airworthiness certificates issued for general aviation aircraft: standard and special.  Standard airworthiness certificates are issued for aircrafts for normal use, utility flights, acrobatic flights, commuter flights, transport, and manned balloons.  Special airworthiness certificates are issued for unusual circumstances, such as limited flights, light-sport flights, and experimental flights.  Each plane can retain its airworthiness certificate as long as the aircraft is in good condition, well maintained, and all alterations are made according to the standards for aircraft safety. 

Aircraft Seating Capacity Regulations

GARA is limited to flights with a seating capacity of less than 20 passengers.   Further, the general aviation aircraft could not have been used as a commercial passenger flight of any sort at the time of the accident.  If a pilot or company scheduled a commercial flight to Bermuda on a general aircraft and an accident related to product defect occurred during the flight, GARA does not protect the aircraft and parts manufacturers from litigation.  However, if the pilot scheduled a non-commercial trip to Jamaica for 20 friends and family members and an accident occurred because of product defect, the injured parties or their loved ones would not be allowed to sue the aircraft and parts manufacturers. 

Getting Legal Help

Finding the right aviation attorney is a personal decision.  You need to find an attorney with a proven track record, and one with whom you think you can work closely.  Further, the aviation community’s bar association may be able to provide you with information about aviation attorneys in your area.

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