The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a district court’s determination that the statute of repose under the General Aviation Revitalization Act began to run when an allegedly defective part, “along with the aircraft in which it was installed originally, was delivered to its first purchaser.” U.S. Aviation Underwriters, Inc. v. Nabtesco Corp., No. 11-35440 (9th Cir., decided October 2, 2012). At issue was whether the Act’s first “trigger” date applies to component parts.
The component part at issue was originally installed in a Cessna 550 aircraft that was delivered to its first purchaser in October 1990—more than 18 years before the accident—and then removed, overhauled and reinstalled in a Cessna 560, the aircraft involved in the accident, in April 2007. The plaintiff filed a subrogation claim against the part’s manufacturer in May 2010 for damage to the Cessna 560, which was involved in a runway accident in August 2009. The statute has two “trigger” dates; the second, a rolling trigger date, “occurs when a new component, which is alleged to have caused the accident, replaces an existing component of the aircraft or is added to the plane.” Because the part was not new and the trial court correctly held that the rolling trigger date did not therefore apply, the plaintiff did not appeal this part of the lower court’s ruling.
The first trigger date specifically applies to the delivery date of “the aircraft” and does not expressly mention component parts. The Ninth Circuit found this part of the statute ambiguous and cited legislative history to hold that “the ‘date of delivery of the aircraft’ in § 2(1)(A) refers to the accident aircraft, including its constituent parts.” According to the court, “it is more natural to construe ‘the aircraft’ to mean the aircraft including its component parts” and suggested that its broader definition also “comports with the language and design of the statute as a whole.” Thus, the court affirmed the lower court’s grant of the component-part manufacturer’s motion for summary judgment.