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While many of these aircraft operate similarly to any other, there are a few important factors that make homebuilt aircraft different. Homebuilt aircraft are subject to slightly different liability rules than regularly manufactured aircraft. Homebuilt aircraft are categorized as experimental. Experimental aircraft are considered aircraft that have not be proven safe for flight. Generally this is because the technologies are new and unproven and/or the aircraft are not built or manufactured by licensed mechanics. Many of these airplanes fall into categories of aeroplanes, light planes, ultralights, paragliders, sailplanes, and gyroplanes.
Most homebuilt aircraft are created from partial or full kits and plans. These items are normally obtained from a kit company. Kit companies are numerous and vary in what they may offer. The builder can obtain a kit or just the plan, but must follow them with no deviation. Once the aircraft is built, the builder must request an inspection by the FAA, and then must operate the aircraft for a designated amount of hours under certain limitations. After these things have been accomplished the aircraft may be operated as a normal general aviation aircraft, bearing one exception. When carrying passengers, it cannot be used to transport them for “compensation or hire”.
In the event that something goes wrong and results in an accident that causes injury or death, liability can become tricky to determine. The kit manufacturer can be held responsible if the accident arose because there was a flaw or error in the design or plans of the aircraft. Additionally they can be held responsible if any of the parts included in the kit were faulty or led the builder to believe the aircrafts performance would be different than its true capabilities.
The actual builder of the homebuilt aircraft may be held liable for any neglect that allegedly contributed to the accident. If the plans of the kit were not followed correctly or if they were altered in any way during production, then the builder can be held liable. This means many homebuilders are shouldering a large risk when deciding to build an aircraft themselves. The building must be completed with great care and the plans precisely followed from beginning to end.
Routine maintenance must also be conducted. In respect to builder liability, potential liability continues on even after the aircraft has been sold by the original owner. In many sales it is recommended that a waiver of release or liability be entered between the owner and purchaser. However, even if a waiver is signed by both parties, it may not be enforceable due to many legal doctrines.
Curry, Pearson & Wooten PLC has handled many claims regarding homebuilt aircraft. Contact us for a free case evaluation.