AIN Blog: Singing the Legalese Blues

 - January 2, 2013, 12:28 PM

When John Adams proclaimed, “I believe in a government of laws, not of men,” he couldn’t have imagined just how many laws—or how much legal mumbo-jumbo—his descendants would have to endure. In his day, after all, people didn’t do things like put an empty sheet at the end of the Constitution labeled, “This page intentionally left blank.”          

Today, legalese and lawsuit-avoidance techniques confront us at every turn. Movie DVDs begin with the shocking news that opinions expressed in their commentary tracks are actually those of the people expressing them. Emails end with statements about how “this message, together with any attachments, is intended only for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed.” TV car commercials show drivers performing death-defying stunts while fine print warns, “Professional driver on closed course. Do not attempt.” (Thanks for telling me. I was just about to floor the accelerator.)

And have you read any software agreements lately? Of course not. Nobody but lawyers wades through those things. But they can be enlightening. I mean, who would have guessed that Apple disallows use of its App Store for “any purposes prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the development, design, manufacture or production of nuclear missiles, or chemical or biological weapons”? That’s right: If you download the Facebook app and manage somehow to convert it into an atomic bomb, the folks from Apple will see you in court. (And if you think I’m making this up, just read Clause G of the company’s poetically named Licensed Application End User License Agreement.)

So what does all this have to do with business aviation? Well, if the App Store’s agreement seems impossibly longwinded and abstruse, what do you suppose the typical business-jet-related legal document reads like? Yup—an even more incomprehensible mess. If you’re not getting results with Lunesta or Ambien, try spending a little time with the Federal Aviation Regulations, which feature such heartfelt prose as, “An operator may substitute for the required plan a notice, certified as true plan (under penalty of 18 U.S.C. 10001) by that operator, that no change in the plan or status of an airplane affected by the plan has occurred since the date of the plan most recently submitted under this section.”

Huh?

Of course, it’s not just the government that’s spewing forth this sort of gibberish. I recently attempted to decipher the contract employed by one of the leading fractional-jet-share providers and gave up after about 350 words—all of which were part of one sentence. This thing made James Joyce’s Ulysses seem like Goodnight Moon—and it went on for more than 40 pages. There ought to be a law against contracts like this, but it would probably be written by lawyers, so it would just compound the damage.

If you’re reviewing a contract for a new jet, fractional share or jet card, you’re probably in a mood to echo Shakespeare’s famous line from Henry VI about how we should “kill all the lawyers.” But if you can’t do that, better get your own.

And be careful what you do with those App Store apps.