Aviation Law

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates aviation law. The FAA oversees all rules, regulations, and policies related to air travel, airport safety, and both commercial and private aircraft requirements inside the United States. Aviation regulations are complex, making the practice of airplane law extremely difficult. You will need to hire a litigation attorney legal with significant experience in aviation law if you need to file an aviation injury claim.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Aug 19, 2021

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  • Aviation law requires specific knowledge of federal regulations and the federal agencies that participate in oversight
  • Aviation law generally is overseen by the FAA while aviation accidents are investigated by the NTSB
  • Depending on the circumstances, pilots, aircraft manufacturers, and air traffic control can be held liable for aviation accidents

Aviation law is a highly specialized field that covers most areas of air travel, both private and commercial. It also includes the federal regulations of air travel. The FAA oversees everything, from the individual parts of aircraft to how those aircraft operate safely in U.S. airspace.

Because so many federal guidelines are involved in aviation law, an attorney must be well-equipped to understand the nuances of local and international accident law and how those laws affect people involved in aviation injury claims.

If you have an aviation-related issue and are looking for legal guidance, do not turn to just any general attorney with an aviation law degree. Enter your ZIP code above to find an experienced and affordable litigation attorney in your area who specializes in airplane law for free.

What is aviation law?

From aircraft manufacturing standards to airport personnel and flight crews to commercial aircraft passenger behavior, the FAA oversees nearly every aspect of air travel. The FAA even has the authority to remove aircraft from service if the aircraft is too old or contains parts that are known to malfunction.

Under the FAA’s Airworthiness Directives, certain aircraft from both private and commercial use are removed because of parts issues. If the issues can be resolved, they may allow the aircraft to fly again. Otherwise, the aircraft must be permanently retired.

Complicating matters even more, states laws affect aviation as well. States are prohibited from enacting laws that contradict federal law but can still pass general laws that mandate certain quiet hours or zones around airports and military bases.

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Who can be held liable in aviation accidents?

The FAA works closely with another federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), to investigate all aircraft incidents and crashes. It maintains a database of all aircraft accidents to detect patterns that may help prevent future accidents.

Every aviation accident is unique and presents different challenges. Many people could be to blame for a general aviation accident, including

  • Pilots
  • Passengers
  • Operating companies
  • Air traffic control
  • Maintenance companies
  • Plane manufacturers
  • Part manufacturers
  • Bad weather

Some incidents may initially seem like nothing more than a freak accident. When bad weather pops up, it can seem like any resulting accident was unavoidable, but blame can lie with the pilot for not properly preparing. Blame could also lie with weather radar manufacturers and maintenance companies for failure to properly maintain the weather equipment on the plane.

While every commercial aviation accident is different, the most common factors involved in an accident include:

  • Pilot error
  • Failure to check weather conditions
  • Air traffic control error
  • Faulty engines
  • Negligent aircraft maintenance
  • Security breach

Deciding who is liable in aircraft accidents will require an intense investigation, one that can be done with the help of a trusted aviation law attorney. Experienced lawyers in the field of aviation law will have vital relationships with plane accident reconstruction experts. These experts can conduct their own investigation of the accident and make a clear determination as to the cause and who is liable. Making this determination is imperative for you to be able to file a lawsuit against the appropriate negligent party.

If you need help with your aviation injury claim, take advantage of our free aviation accident resources and use our free legal tool below to speak with a local aviation attorney today.

How do aviation laws apply to commercial aviation accidents?

Commercial aviation generally refers to the airlines we travel on the most. When you pay for a ticket to travel on an airline from one place to another, you are flying on commercial aviation.

U.S. commercial aviation is extremely safe. The number of aircraft accidents and fatalities has consistently fallen over the last several decades. That does not mean accidents do not happen. They do, but you are more likely to survive those accidents than in the past.

Any aviation accident will involve the NTSB. They will conduct a thorough investigation and they will attempt to find the exact cause of the accident. The NTSB will use the information they collect to modify existing guidelines or enact new guidelines that will attempt to prevent future accidents of the same kind from happening.

But the NTSB is slow and bureaucratic in completing its investigations. If you are the victim of an aviation accident, hire an aviation lawyer to conduct an investigation and enlist aviation accident reconstruction experts to help your case.

How do aviation laws apply to general aviation accidents?

According to the FAA, there are over 220,000 general aviation aircraft registered in the US, and the safety of general aviation aircraft is no accident. Pilots go through rigorous training and the aircraft are built and maintained to high standards.

But what do you do if you’re involved in an aviation accident? An aviation accident lawsuit can be filed anywhere in the U.S. where there is a sufficient connection between the accident and the location chosen to file the lawsuit.

For example, if you suffer injuries in an aviation accident in a Grand Canyon sightseeing tour on a flight that originated in Las Vegas, you could potentially file your suit in Arizona or Nevada. You may even be able to file your suit in your home state depending on state laws.

Choose the location of your lawsuit wisely. While juries might be more sympathetic in Las Vegas, but if you live out of state, filing a lawsuit out West might make it challenging for you to be present at hearings. These considerations are best worked through with an experienced aviation law attorney.

If you plan on filing a lawsuit for a general aviation accident, you will need to adhere to a statute of repose. This is a time limit on when you can file your claim.

Every state has limitations on when victims can file civil suits against a negligent party. These are called statutes of limitations. A statute of repose is slightly different and may even limit your ability to present evidence of negligence.

The General Aviation Revitalization Act (GARA) set a time limit of 18 years for statutes of repose. In practice, this means that planes and plane parts that are older than 18 years cannot be the sole basis for a claim. The idea behind a statute of repose is that it limits the plane manufacturer and operator’s liability for any accidents. In other words, a victim cannot sue forever, and it reduces undue hardship on the plane manufacturer.

What happens if I was injured on a foreign carrier?

What happens when you’re injured on a foreign carrier depends on several different factors, including where the plane originated from, its destination, and whether the airline company is based in the U.S. or a foreign country. International investigations are also handled differently outside of U.S. soil, and the legal process and the amount of compensation can vary depending on where you file the lawsuit.

International aviation law governing foreign airline accidents is complex. Do not pursue litigation against a foreign aviation entity without hiring a skilled aviation lawyer first. They will have an acute knowledge of the international travel laws and treaties regulating foreign carriers and how these influence your rights as a victim.

Use our free legal tool to talk to an aviation attorney today, and keep reading to learn more about the different types of international aviation laws that impact what happens if you are injured on a foreign carrier.

Warsaw Convention

The Warsaw Convention is a 1929 agreement that limits airline liability in the event of an accident or crash on an international flight. The U.S. is subject to the Warsaw Convention, limiting U.S. airlines’ liability for an accident that occurred for a reason other than the airline’s own willful misconduct.

Airlines do not have to pay victims or victim’s families more than $75,000. An individual must also file a lawsuit within two years of the accident or they risk losing out on the chance to recover compensation.

An airline will not be liable if they can prove that they used due care or the pilots acted reasonably in the situation, even if the accident still occurred. The Warsaw Convention can apply to accidents that occur in flight as well as while getting on or off the plane.

Montreal Convention

Ratified by the U.S. in 2003, the Montreal Convention increases the liability amount for airlines to $140,000. This amount is adjusted annually for inflation.

Any accident that occurs on a flight that originates or terminates in the U.S. is subject to the Montreal Convention. Victims can seek additional compensation by showing willful misconduct of the airline. The airline can defend itself by proving that the crash was not a result of their negligence or was actually caused by another person or company.

Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act

The Foreign Air Carrier Family Support Act of 1997, a regulation of the U.S. Department of Transportation, requires foreign airlines to provide support to family members of plane crash victims. The airlines must provide the same support required of domestic airlines under the 1996 Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act.

The type of support required will vary depending on the type and severity of the plane crash. Generally, the airline must provide:

  • Food and board near the accident site
  • Counseling and therapy support
  • Burial support
  • Ongoing investigation information

The airlines work closely with the NTSB to provide information to victims’ families. Ideally, families are privy to new information before the media.

Foreign Aircraft Maintenance and Inspection

Plane registrations generally determine which country is responsible for the maintenance of aircraft regulations and any inspections required. Foreign airplanes will usually fall under the jurisdiction of their home country.

In the U.S., however, international law gives the FAA responsibility for foreign aircraft inspection. If an accident happens inside the U.S. on a foreign aircraft, the NTSB will head the investigation, along with the FAA. If an accident occurs in a foreign country and U.S. citizens were on board the plane, the NTSB and FAA will send representatives to be intimately involved in the crash investigation.

How to File Foreign Aviation Lawsuits

As if things were not already complicated enough, how to file a lawsuit for a plane crash in a foreign country can be extremely difficult. The Warsaw Convention provides four different options for where lawsuits resulting from a plane accident on a foreign carrier or in a foreign country may be filed:

  1. The country where the passenger bought the ticket for the flight
  2. The country where the flight was supposed to land
  3. The country where the airline is incorporated
  4. The country where the airline houses its main business operations

Many people think that they can file a lawsuit against an airline in their home country, regardless of any other circumstances of the plane accident. That’s not always the case unless the home country happens to be one of the options above. Because lawsuits generally need to be filed in a location where both the customer and the business have some dealings, the passenger’s home country was specifically left off this list unless it meets the criteria.

As with any lawsuit, determining where to file a lawsuit will require weighing several factors. It may be more convenient to file a lawsuit in the country where the ticket was purchased because that’s also your home country. This is a decision that can have legal consequences so it’s best to discuss your options with a skilled aviation lawyer.

How do I hire an aviation lawyer?

When someone gets injured in a commercial aviation accident, the trauma can be severe. Beyond the physical injuries, mental injuries may linger for the rest of the victim’s lifetime. They may not be able to get on a plane again and they may experience constant flashbacks, limiting their ability to travel. To help these victims recover, aviation law attorneys may be able to provide the legal support and guidance necessary.

If you or a loved one has been injured or tragically killed in a plane crash, you might not know where to turn. The NTSB and FAA may be able to help you by providing some technical answers about what happened and why the plane crashed. Ultimately, however, that does nothing to help you recover from your plane accident or recover from the tragic loss of a loved one. Suing the negligent party can help you get back some of what you’ve lost, including medical bills, funeral costs, and mental health therapy.

Whether you or a loved one suffered injuries on your own plane, a sightseeing tour, a domestic flight, or a long-haul international flight on a foreign carrier, you have rights. Speak with a trusted and aggressive aviation law attorney today. An aviation lawyer can help investigate a plane crash and protect your rights as you recover from a traumatic experience.

Speak with an aviation attorney for free today with our legal tool below. Enter your ZIP code to get in touch with local aviation law firms near you.

Frequently Asked Questions: Aviation Law

Scroll down for answers to the commonly asked question about aviation law and general aviation:

#1 What are the different types of general aviation?

When most people think of airplanes, they think of commercial airlines and maybe even cargo planes. That is commercial aircraft and the specific airlines are referred to as common carriers. General aviation, however, refers to all aircraft except military planes and commercial or cargo planes.

The FAA regulates what types of general aviation airplanes can fly in different scenarios. Aircraft types vary and so too does liability in the case of an accident.


Charter companies operate a substantial number of the general aviation aircraft. These companies usually own large fleets of planes in varying sizes and use them to charter guests who have the means to fly private instead of commercial. These guests may find a charter membership more cost-effective than owning their own aircraft outright.


Business aviation is similar to charter, however, a business may own the plane outright and use it to shuttle executives and employees between offices. These aircraft may be smaller single-engine or may be larger business jets with international flying capabilities and ranges.


Depending on where you live and on vacation, you may see lots of sightseeing aircraft. You generally see these in picturesque locations like Hawaii and the Swiss Alps. The aircraft operated by sightseeing companies may be helicopters or smaller single or twin-engine aircraft.


Essential for some people’s lives, medevac flights are operated to provide emergency medical care to patients. Usually, these patients are located in remote parts of the world, making a flight the fastest and safest way to get them the help they need.


There are many agricultural uses for general aviation aircraft. Most commonly, you will see crop-dusting planes flying over fields dropping pesticides and fertilizers to help the crops grow.


When a person wants to get their pilot’s license, they first need to learn how to fly. Everyone from a flight hobbyist to commercial airline pilots has to start somewhere. Training aircraft are often single-engine planes operated by flight academies.


Many of these people who want to learn how to fly do so because they simply enjoy being in the air. Some of these people own their own small aircraft or have a membership with an organization to use aircraft when they want. Some fly just for enjoyment and others do so to shuttle family and friends on vacations or between homes.

#2 What is a black box?

Whenever a commercial aviation accident occurs, you often hear about the search for the black box. A black box can provide detailed information about the moments leading up to a plane crash.

What is a black box? It is actually two devices: the electronic flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. Together, these devices make up what we commonly call the black box.

The electronic flight data recorder does not record any audio. This part of the black box records all the electronic and flight data information. Things like altitude, speed, and direction of travel, along with countless other intricate and important information. The electronic flight data recorder is necessary for a worst-case scenario where no pilot survives the crash. The data collected can be vital to the NTSB and its investigation.

The cockpit voice recorder collects the audio between pilots in the aircraft and air traffic control. Combined with the data from the electronic flight data recorder, investigators can make an accurate determination of what may have caused a crash.

Each of these devices also has a beacon built into it that transmits a signal for several days after a crash to help investigators locate the black box and all of the vital information it contains.

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