Editorial: March 2005 - Lawyers Circling

 - March 15, 2007, 6:52 AM

Airplane accidents usually cause harm beyond the grief they bring to the families of those lost, and the spate of business aircraft crashes late last year is proving collectively to be no exception. As the toll kept rising, business aviation gained ever more unfavorable prominence in the media. Last month, a Citation 560 carrying Circuit City people crashed on the approach to Pueblo, Colo., claiming the lives of all eight aboard; a second Citation carrying more employees of the same company landed safely at Pueblo minutes later.

Most of the accidents in recent months share at least one common thread: they involved prominent family or business names, which attracted media scrutiny that grew more intense as the toll mounted. The Teterboro Challenger mishap might not have involved any household names, but it did happen in the backyard of the media capital of the world, causing all that machinery to swing its gaze west across the Hudson River and focus on yet another fallen business aircraft.

At least, we told ourselves, the media has a short attention span and moves on to pastures new soon enough.

But later the very day of the Pueblo accident last month, business aviation came under what could be a more enduring assault, when an aggressive New York law firm issued a release decrying the spate of business and corporate aircraft crashes as “alarming and [meriting] industry-wide investigation.” This law practice, which promotes itself as “the nation’s leading aviation law firm,” was firing the opening public volley in a campaign to drum up business for some high-profile lawsuits to add to its trophy room, which already includes Pan Am 103, Korean 007, American 587 and the Aspen Gulfstream III.

“Passengers and crew of these [business aircraft] deserve a greater sense of safety and security than they have now,” lamented the release, ignoring the statistics that show the professionally crewed business jet to be one of the safest conveyances ever devised by mankind. With law firms circling and making a public spectacle of questioning the safety of this form of transportation, business aviation’s goal to be the safest way of getting around, bar none, gains even more nobility.

Since only one of the seven business aircraft that crashed and made headlines in recent months was less than 18 years old (the 14-year-old Citation in Pueblo)–meaning that its manufacturer would not be covered by the protections of the General Aviation Revitalization Act–it will be interesting indeed to observe the legal maneuvering ahead.