Aviation Expert Witness: A Hiring Guide


Right now, there are about 5,000 commercial airplanes in the sky over the United States. Unfortunately, the combination of high speeds, high altitudes, and volatile chemicals make flying an extremely dangerous form of transportation. The odds of dying in a commuter plane accident are 29 times higher than driving in a car. This makes lawsuits against manufacturers and airlines inevitable. Because these lawsuits usually involve technical and regulatory knowledge, an aviation expert witness is necessary in litigating aviation cases. An aviation expert witness can be used to explain certain engineering, design, or human aspects to the judge and jury as well as determine the cause of accidents.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Report Expert Witness

After a plane crash, the accident scene and the salvaged remains are taken under the custody of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). This can last for up to a year and a half, as remains must be preserved for examination. The released NTSB reports are often vague with no determination of a root cause. Whatsmore, their opinions on probable cause are not admissible as evidence at a trial.

While manufacturers, airlines, and insurance representatives have full access to the wreckage, the plaintiffs do not. This inequality means that the plaintiffs need to conduct their own separate investigation and consult an aviation expert witness — specifically, one who is able to analyze the NTSB’s report and draw conclusions about the proximate cause of the accident based on the facts available to them. The aviation expert witness should have a background in aviation mechanics and engineering in order to analyze the facts of the report and uncover the cause of the accident.

Failure Analysis Expert Witness

An aviation expert witness in this field can examine the evidence of a helicopter or plane wreckage. They will then use their knowledge of mechanical engineering to determine the machine-driven factors of a crash. Given access to part of the wreckage, investigators could figure out the mechanical problems with the aircraft’s equipment. Or they could examine the systems that caused or contributed to the crash. This could include parts breakage, and failure of the plane’s system controls for the fuel system or landing gear. They also can speak to proper aircraft maintenance/repairs and whether the aircraft in question was maintained at a level of airworthiness by the airline.

Pilot and Aircrew Expert Witness

For tort cases and possible violation matters, the blame is most often placed on either the manufacturers of the vehicle or on pilot error. A pilot expert witness could speak to the standards of training, health, and performance to determine if a pilot made a mistake. They would be familiar with the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations regarding crews. They would also be able to testify as to whether a pilot operated within his or her scope of authority for any given action. Most pilot experts are or were experienced professional aviators themselves.  Therefore they have firsthand experience with the demands and responsibilities of flying.

External Factors

There are other, external, factors that could lead to an airplane accident besides problems with the pilot or the mechanics of the vehicle. For example, both human and computer failure in the air traffic control system put airborne passengers and crew at high risk for crash. An aviation expert witness with expertise in air traffic control systems would be either current or retired professionals in the field. Aerospace and meteorologist experts could be brought in to speak about how favorable or unfavorable weather conditions may have affected the flight. Any one of numerous factors that go into making a successful flight could be a focus in a case.

1 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2204838/Rush-hour-skies-Real-time-map-shows-plane-air-right-now.html

2 http://www.resource4aviationlaw.com/

About The Author

Stephen Gomez, J.D., is a legal compliance and professional risk specialist who manages employment lawsuits for large corporate entities including, banks, fortune 500 companies, hospitals, and universities.