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Case

Liability for damage to an aircraft

maandag 4 januari 2021

When transporting cargo or passengers, airlines are faced with several conditions that can cause damage to their aircraft. This damage occurs in most cases when the aircraft is still on the ground. When parked, leaving the gate or taxiing to the runway. But who is liable for this damage and what does an airline have to pay for itself?

Our aviation law expert Michelle Reevers regularly helps airlines to recover the damages they have suffered from the right party. This was also the case in a matter where an aircraft was pushed back from a gate (the push-back service) by the ground handler and the North Holland District Court ruled on the issue of liability for the damage.

Damage to aircraft wing after collision at Schiphol Airport

In 2016, an aircraft of El Al Israel Airlines (hereafter: El Al) at Schiphol Airport was pushed backwards from the gate by the ground handler (the push-back driver). In doing so the aeroplane hits the blastfence of the airport with one of its wings (the wingtip), causing a big crack in the wing. As a result, the aircraft could not take off anymore and first had to be repaired at Schiphol Airport. Passengers and crew had to disembark and were accommodated in a hotel until a replacement flight could be arranged.

Liability for aircraft damage by ground handler

The ground handler was of the opinion that it was not (fully) liable for the damage suffered by the airline as a result of the collision. The airline was therefore forced to start legal proceedings in order to obtain compensation for the damages. The basis of this claim for damages was the ground handler's culpable breach of its obligations under the IATA Standard Ground Handling Agreement (SGHA). On the basis of the SGHA, the ground handler is liable for the loss and damage to the aircraft if caused by negligent acts or omissions of the ground handler.

Negligence ground handler

In this case, the court has established that the driver who performed the push-back was negligent in his actions, because he deviated from the applicable guidance (and limit) lines prescribed by Schiphol on the platform of the gate during the push-back. The ground handler argued that the collision was caused by local weather circumstances (slipperiness), but failed to prove this. The (negligent) actions of the driver were therefore at the risk of the ground handler and the court upheld the claim for damages.

Compensation for the airline

However, the amount of the compensation was under discussion. The SGHA contains an exoneration with regard to consequential damage in case of damage to the aircraft. Therefore, according to the court, certain costs were not eligible for compensation. The costs for the new final wing tip of € 321,574.00 were awarded, as well as the legal interest thereon from the date of default. 

This is an interesting case that illustrates how damage can occur to an aircraft and the associated liability. The basis for the liability in this case was the agreement concluded between the parties (SGHA) and the applicable guidelines for the performance of the services. Due to the specific circumstances in this case the ground handler was held liable for damage to the aircraft due to negligent acts.

Questions about damage in the aviation industry?

Michelle Reevers of LVH Advocaten regularly assists airlines and other companies in the aviation industry in disputes concerning damage. Do you have questions about the possibility of recovering damages in the aviation industry or are you looking for advice on recovering damages or assistance in legal proceedings? Feel free to contact Michelle for the possibilities. She will be happy to assist you in all your aviation related legal disputes.

Michelle Reevers

aviation, commercial contracts, business and shareholders

+31 (0)10 209 27 75
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