Federal law sets a time limit for filing lawsuits against aircraft manufacturers for defective planes. A manufacturer is free from liability after 18 years, with some restrictions, for property damage, personal injuries and deaths caused by problems with their product.
Reasons why the U.S. enacted GARA
In the years leading up to the General Aviation Revitalization Act of 1994 (GARA), a number of the original aircraft makers were in deep decline. As they saw it, a major problem was the risk of lawsuits over planes that left the assembly lines decades earlier.
Still-competitive brands like Boeing, Dassault, Pilatus and Gulfstream made their first planes in 1916, 1929, 1939 and 1958, respectively. The more venerable the company, the more vulnerable it was to litigation. The potential loss of business and technical expertise got legislators’ attention.
General Aviation (GA) seemed especially singled out. GA includes almost all aviation aside from familiar commercial airline travel, notably corporate and private jets as well as tourism flights and recreation and sports flying.
What GARA does and does not do
To apply mainly to GA, GARA applies only to aircraft with “…a maximum seating capacity of fewer than 20 passengers, and which was not, at the time of the accident, engaged in scheduled passenger-carrying operations.”
The 18-year window is not a blanket immunity. For example, each replacement part has its own 18-year clock, so few planes are wholly in the clear.
GARA’s immunity also does not apply, for example, if the manufacturer lies to the FAA about the cause of the accident, nor to people not in the plane or airlifted for emergencies.
Legal debates over the 1994 law continue
Like most Federal laws, GARA can raise a broad field of questions.
For example, an article in Business Jet Traveler expressed concern over what some call “liability diffusion,” in which legal pressure moves from aircraft manufacturers to flight instructors and charter pilots, part manufacturers and others not exempted by GARA.
Business Jet Traveler suggests cautious legal review when selling or buying aircraft, pointing to possibilities that liability may follow the aircraft from one buyer to another.