Congressional watchdog says legislation has helped GA manufacturing to recover

The US general aviation industry continues to be affected by high aircraft prices, inadequate airport funding and reduced interest in flying, according to a report by the General Accounting Office (GAO). This is despite the industry's recovery since 1994, when legislation was enacted to limit manufacturers' product liability.

The Congressional watchdog says the manufacturing sector has recovered sharply since the enactment of the General Aviation Revitalisation Act (GARA), which established an 18-year statute of repose for lawsuits against manufacturers and suppliers from first delivery of an aircraft. Flying activity has also increased, but at a slower rate, while the number of active pilots continued its decline until 1998, but has increased over the past two years.

Prepared for Congress, the report rates the GARA as the "most significant contributor" to the recovery in GA manufacturing, but acknowledges other factors, particularly the strong US economy and the popularity of fractional ownership. After falling from a high of 18,000 aircraft in 1978 to a low of 928 in 1994, shipments by US manufacturers rose to 2,816 last year, the GAO says. Deliveries slipped slightly in the first half of this year with the slowing economy, according to the US General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA).

The report says product liability concerns have fallen since GARA. GAO cites a study by GAMA which found that paid claims and defence expenses for the USGA industry had risen to $210 million a year by 1986, while manufacturers put product liability costs at $70,000-100,000 per aircraft built. GAMA says the number of product liability lawsuits has fallen since enactment of GARA.

Despite the relief provided by GARA, manufacturers still face a number of product liability lawsuits. Last month, a Florida jury awarded $480 million in damages to three people hurt in the 1989 crash of a Cessna 185 - the largest monetary verdict in aviation litigation history.

Lawyers argued the pilot lost control of the aircraft because of a known defect in the seat latching system. Cessna is considering appealing against the award.

Source: Flight International