Understanding the risks of flying in a homebuilt aircraft

| May 7, 2021 | Aviation Accident

The most famous homebuilt aircraft in U.S. history is probably the plane flown by the Wright brothers over a century ago. However, homebuilt (also referred to as experimental amateur-built or kitbuilt) planes have become the fastest-growing type of aircraft in recent years.

“Experimental” and “homebuilt” may seem like two words that you should never use anywhere near the word “airplane” to people whose idea of a rough plane ride is one where they have to sit in economy class. However, these homebuilt airplanes aren’t just roaming the skies freely. They need to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) as experimental/amateur-built (EAB) aircraft. Many aspects of them are the same as aircraft built in large factories. 

When are these aircraft most likely to crash?

These aircraft have a higher accident rate than other types of planes, although the crash rate has declined in recent years. It’s hard to know the precise numbers because the FAA only tracks fatal accidents for EAB aircraft.

About 13% of accidents with homebuilt aircraft occur within the flight-testing program phase that runs up to 40 hours. Most crashes, however, happen within the first 10 hours. Safety analysts recommend that homebuilt aircraft builders don’t try to pilot their planes themselves if they’re inexperienced but instead hire a professional pilot to do so during the testing phase.

How is liability for crashes covered?

Owners of homebuilt aircraft have a variety of types of insurance to choose from. Homebuilt aircraft owners need to have liability insurance that covers injury, property damage and legal costs. The rates for that coverage may vary depending on the size and type of plane, the pilot’s experience and other factors.

The owner of the aircraft is generally also the manufacturer and pilot. That’s a lot of liability. The owner or injured parties could seek compensation from the manufacturer and their insurance company if crash investigators determine that some malfunction or defective parts resulted in the crash.

If you’ve suffered injuries or a loved one has lost their life in an EAB aircraft crash, then it’s essential to know what your options are for compensation. These will depend in part on what kind of insurance coverage the plane’s owner has and what caused the crash. An experienced aviation attorney can help you determine this information and advise you of your rights.