Manufacturers, owners and pilots of small aircraft warned Wednesday that the general aviation industry will collapse unless Congress overhauls product liability laws.
In testimony before the Senate Commerce subcommittee on aviation, industry representatives repeatedly pointed to increasing numbers of lawsuits, larger judgments and skyrocketing insurance costs as the main causes of a more than 80% drop in sales of small planes in the last five years.
"Left unchecked, product liability costs will destroy this industry," said Russell Meyer, chairman of Cessna Aircraft Co., Wichita, Kan., the world's largest manufacturer of general aviation planes.
Meyer and other witnesses, including Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.), called for the approval of legislation sponsored by Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.).
Her bill, similar to legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.), would establish a uniform federal standard for handling lawsuits against aircraft companies when people seek damages for injuries caused by allegedly defective or dangerous products.
Liability laws traditionally have been a matter left to states, but reform advocates say that has created a patchwork of inconsistent laws across the country.
Dole pledged to push for quick Senate action on the proposal, but cautioned that it would be difficult because little time is left in this session of Congress.