Lack of Weight and Balance Consideration Results in Private and Small Plane Crash Lawsuit

Case Title: Barnes et al v. PB One Aviation LLC, et al

On September 12, 2013, a Pilatus Aircraft Ltd PC-12 with registration number N617BG aborted takeoff at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA) when the plane began to settle back onto the runway during liftoff. The pilot and nine passengers were on board. Visual meteorological conditions were in force for this charter flight from Austin to Lubbock, Texas.

Description of the Incident

This flight was operated as an on-demand passenger flight. As such, it required accurate passenger and carry-on weights to calibrate the weight and balance of the flight. Typically, passengers would be weighed or at least individually queried about their weights. The cargo should be weighed and balanced throughout the airplane. This data should be verified before the flight and recorded on a document called the Trip Planner. In addition, the cargo should be strapped down so it cannot shift during the flight. If a passenger is replaced by a different one, the new passenger’s weight should be measured and considered in the planned seating. Finally, the flight company and pilot should brief passengers on safety procedures before the flight.

NTSB Findings

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) after the incident showed that the pilot did not account for all passenger and cargo weight. Cargo weights were not reported on the required paperwork. Passengers stated that they were not asked to confirm their weights and that coolers stocked with drinks and food were not weighed or strapped down before takeoff. In addition, three of the listed passengers were replaced by other passengers whose weights were not recorded.  Passengers interviewed after the incident stated that they did not receive any briefings before the flight.

The pilot held an airline transport pilot certificate with a multiple-engine rating and no previous Federal Aviation Administration record of accidents or enforcements. His training and certificates were up to date. When interviewed about the incident, the pilot stated that within just a few seconds after takeoff, the plane began to pitch downward toward the runway. He said that he experienced a stall warning and was able to recover to level the wings and safely abort the takeoff. The pilot also commented that he did not perceive any heavy braking and would not classify the landing as “hard.” The entire incident took around twenty seconds. Despite this characterization of the incident as minor, the plane suffered damage, and one passenger suffered minor injuries due to unsecured cargo.

The lack of consideration regarding weight and balance was determined to have caused the aborted takeoff, as the center of gravity was off and weight limits were exceeded. Almost five hundred pounds of carry-on items were not included in the weight and balance for the flight. The maximum weight for the airplane was approximately one hundred pounds overweight. In addition to the issues with the flight itself, the company’s record-keeping caused additional problems. Portions of the cockpit data recorder were found to have been overwritten before the recorder was turned over to the NTSB, leaving an incomplete record. Finally, the pilot did not file an incident report as requested. All of these incidents of negligence on the part of the pilot and company created a dangerous situation that ultimately contributed to the damages that the passengers suffered.

A Positive Outcome for Our Clients

Slack Davis Sanger represented seven of the passengers on this flight, securing settlements for their damages due to the negligence of the pilot and company. Although most of the passengers were not injured physically, they all suffered from the trauma of the uncontrolled landing and the inability to safely fly to their destination that September day. No aircraft passenger should be subject to a flight with a dangerous and negligent carrier or pilot.

Ladd Sanger is an attorney and a licensed pilot who focuses on aviation accidents, including product liability, product litigation, and representing clients who have been injured as a result of aviation accidents. His experience as a pilot helps him understand the technical aspects of aviation crashes.

Date of Incident

September 12, 2013

Location of Incident

Austin, Texas

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