Airport Operations & Policies Expert Opines on Fatal Accident on Airport Tarmac

Aviation Expert WitnessThis case involves an individual who was traveling on a flight that had been re-routed due to poor weather conditions. The plane landed at a small regional airport, and passengers were held aboard the aircraft for a period of time. Finally, passengers were advised to exit the aircraft directly onto the tarmac, but no jet bridge was provided. The lack of a bridge was in direct violation of aviation regulations; with poor weather conditions, significant thunder, lighting, and rain, it was a dangerous time to be disembarking passengers. Passengers were guided by a SkyWest Ramp Agent once on the tarmac, but at this point, a passenger was struck by a large piece of hail while walking from the aircraft to the airport. It was alleged that the disembarking procedures used were unsafe, and that the individual’s death could have been prevented.

Question(s) For Expert Witness

  • 1. Please explain why you are qualified to serve as an expert reviewer of this matter.
  • 2. Have you ever authored or lectured on the subject of passenger safety, specifically as it pertains to disembarking an aircraft directly onto the tarmac, in poor weather conditions?
  • 3. Are guidelines in place to protect against this from occurring?
  • 4. Who directs passengers to disembark a plane? Is this decision made by airport operations personnel, airline policy and procedure, or by the captain, directly?

Expert Witness Response E-057780

I’ve been in operations and senior management positions at both domestic and international airports for over 30 years and have knowledge of federal and ICAO regulations pertaining to airport operations. I’ve also been involved in developing airport safety plans. There are at least 3 opinions to this subject: that of the airline, that of the FAA, and that of the airport. There are federal regulations pertaining to holding passengers on aircrafts for extended periods of time where both the airline and the airport play a role. As for the safety of the passengers on an aircraft sitting on the ground in severe weather conditions, it is the airline’s responsibility to ensure their safety. There is no regulation requiring an airport to have loading bridges. The airlines operate at many different airports, which have standard operations procedures that do change based on the specific type of aircraft. It is common for people to disembark on the tarmac and walk at some airports. I would say in this case the pilot should have kept the passengers on board until it was safe to disembark. By law, it’s up to the pilot when passengers leave the plane. There could be some responsibility on the part of the airport or airline though – oftentimes, local ground handlers are pushing to get people off of the plane as fast as possible.

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