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Greg Reigel

  • NAFA Administrator posted an article
    Operational Control And Aircraft Leasing: What’s The Big Deal? see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP., discusses operational control and aircraft leasing.

    From the FAA’s perspective, operational control in aircraft leasing transactions is not just a “big deal”, it is “the” deal.

    What Is Operational Control?

    14 C.F.R §1.1 defines operational control as “the exercise of authority over initiating, conducting or terminating a flight.”  In a “wet” lease situation, since the lessor is providing both aircraft and crew, the lessor maintains operational control of all flights.  And in the absence of a specific exemption (such as under 14 C.F.R. § 91.501(c) the lessor who is operating an aircraft under a wet lease will need to have an air carrier certificate to legally operate the aircraft.

    In a “dry” lease situation, the lessee provides its own flight crew, and the lessee exercises operational control over its flights.  The lessee’s operations may be conducted legally under 14 C.F.R. Part 91 without an air carrier certificate.

    It is important to keep in mind that the FAA will look beyond the actual written agreements to determine who has operational control.  Although a lease may be written as a dry lease and says “Dry Lease” at the top of the agreement, for example, that does not mean the FAA cannot take the position that the arrangement is really being conducted as a wet lease.  And if the FAA takes that position when the lessor who is actually operating the aircraft for the lessee does not have an air carrier certificate, then that will be a problem for the lessor, and potentially for the lessee as well.

    Why Does It Matter?

    If the lessor is exercising operational control, then the flight must be conducted in compliance with regulations that are stricter than Part 91 (i.e. Parts 121 or 135). Those regulations limit the types of airports the lessor may utilize, crew qualifications, crew rest and duty times, maintenance requirements etc.  Additionally, the lessor under a wet lease arrangement is required to remit federal excise tax on the amount charged to the lessee.

    Alternatively, if the lessee has operational control under a dry lease the lessee is permitted to operate under the less restrictive and less costly requirements of Part 91.  And federal excise tax is not due on the amounts paid by the lessee to the lessor, although sales tax is often assessed on the lease rate.

    How Do You Determine Who Has Operational Control?

    The FAA has issued guidance for determining which party has operational control in a leasing arrangement.  Advisory Circular 91.37B Truth in Leasing provides FAA inspectors with an explanation of leasing structures and how they may or may not be compliant with the regulations.  Although AC 91.37B only applies to aircraft subject to the requirements of 14 C.F.R. § 91.23, and it is not regulatory in nature, FAA inspectors also use this guidance when reviewing leasing structures that are not subject to truth-in-leasing requirements.

    Here are the types of questions an FAA inspector will ask when the inspector is trying to determine which party has operational control in an aircraft leasing situation:

    • Who decides crewmember and aircraft assignments?
    • Who accept flight requests?
    • Who actually initiates, conducts, and terminates flights?
    • Are the pilots direct employees or agents for the lessor, the lessee, or someone else?
    • Who is responsible for aircraft maintenance and where is that maintenance performed?
    • Who decides when/where maintenance is accomplished, and who pays the maintenance provider for that service?
    • Prior to departure, who ensures the flight, aircraft, and crew comply with regulations?
    • Who determines weather/fuel requirements, and who pays for the fuel at the pump?
    • Who directly pays for the airport fees, parking/hangar costs, food service, and/or rental cars?

    If properly drafted, an aircraft dry lease agreement should answer these questions and, to the extent the answer for any item is “the lessor”, then the lease should explain that answer and how it does not negate lessee’s exercise of operational control.

    For example, if the aircraft is leased to more than one lessee, it may make more sense for the lessor to retain responsibility for maintenance to ensure that the aircraft is consistently maintained in an airworthy condition.  Similarly, lessor maintaining an insurance policy insuring the aircraft and the various lessees may be necessary to make certain the aircraft is insured appropriately.

    However, responsibility for maintenance or insurance are just two indicia of operational control.  And the lessor’s responsibility for maintenance or insurance does not negate the lessee’s responsibility for ensuring that the aircraft is in an airworthy condition and the lessee’s is properly insured prior to any operations conducted under a lease.  Appropriate language in the lease can explain these issues so an FAA inspector reviewing the lease does not misunderstand and draw the wrong conclusion.

    Also be aware that some FAA inspectors rely upon AC 91.37B but do not fully or properly understand its guidance.  For example, in one instance AC 91.37B states “[t]he FAA has taken the position that if a person leases an aircraft to another and also provides the flightcrew, fuel, and maintenance, the lessor of the aircraft is the operator.”

    This language is sometimes misunderstood by inspectors to mean that a lessee does not have operational control when the lessor is responsible for maintenance.  But that is incorrect.

    The key indicia in the language above is lessor’s providing the flightcrew.  However, lessor’s responsibility for maintenance by itself does not indicate that lessor is improperly exercising operational control over lessee flights.  Although it may indicate that lessor is exercising some operational control, without other indicia of operational control by the lessor, performance of maintenance alone is not conclusive.

    Conclusion

    Operational control in aircraft leasing arrangements is, and will continue to be, an area of special emphasis for the FAA.  Although the terms of the lease and other transaction documents are important, the FAA is not bound by those terms when it is making an operational control determination.  Rather, it will also look at the actual arrangements between the parties, as well as the responsibilities of each party, especially if they are inconsistent with the lease.

    When the FAA determines that lessor is exercising operational control in what is supposed to be a Part 91 dry leasing transaction, you can expect that it will act.  Depending upon the circumstances, pilots and operators could be faced with certificate action and civil penalty action.  It is important to understand the indicia of operational control and to be able to determine which party is exercising operational control in an aircraft leasing transaction.  Only then will you be able to ensure that you are operating in compliance with the regulations.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP., on Feburary 5, 2021.

  • NAFA Administrator posted an article
    Insights From An FAA Illegal Charter Investigation see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, shares insights from an FAA illegal charter investigation. 

    Recent FAA press releases have publicized the enforcement actions the agency is taking against those involved in illegal charter.  However, what is not publicized is how the FAA is investigating these cases.  A recent case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana provides an interesting glimpse into one such investigation.

    The Case

    In Elwell v. Bade et al., the FAA received complaints regarding alleged illegal charter activity.  In response, the FAA opened what has turned out to be a six year investigation.

    During its investigation, the FAA issued three sets of subpoenas over a three year period.  The last set asked for production of all documents related to agreements associated with use, ownership, and/or leasehold interest in certain aircraft under investigation for a specified period of time.  The recipients of the subpoenas (the “Respondents”) objected and refused to produce any documents.

    The FAA filed a petition with the U.S. District Court requesting enforcement of the subpoenas.  The Respondents objected to the subpoena by filing a motion to quash the subpoenas.  The Court refused to quash the FAA’s administrative subpoenas and ordered their enforcement.

    The Court concluded that “(a) the matter under investigation is within the authority of the issuing agency, (b) the information sought is reasonably relevant to that inquiry, and (c) the requests are not too indefinite.” However, the Court’s analysis and rationale also provide insight into some of the things the FAA can do, and when it can do them, in an illegal charter investigation.

    Here are some of the key takeaways:

    The FAA Has Authority To Issue Subpoenas In Connection With An Investigation

    Under 49 U.S.C. § 46101(a), the FAA may investigate violations as long as the agency has “reasonable grounds.”  Neither an enforcement action nor a lawsuit is necessary.  When a court reviews an agency’s subpoena requests, the court must make sure the agency does not exceed its authority.  And the threshold for the relevance of the documents/information requested by the administrative subpoenas is relatively low. The court must also confirm that the requests are not for an illegitimate purpose.

    In illegal charter investigations such as the Bade case, the FAA typically asks for

    • aircraft flight logs
    • flight summaries
    • aircraft lease agreements
    • operating agreements
    • interchange agreements
    • pilot services agreements
    • pilot payrolls
    • operating invoices
    • receipts etc.

    And, as in Bade, a court will likely hold that such requests are proper and do not exceed the FAA’s authority.

    Stale Complaint Rules Do Not Bar Subpoenas During An Investigation

    As you may know, stale complaint rules act to bar the FAA from acting in certain situations after a period of time.  For example, in certificate actions heard before a National Transportation Safety Board Administrative Law Judge, 49 C.F.R. § 821.33 may prevent the FAA from acting if it does not initiate the case within six months of advising the respondent of the reasons for the proposed action.  Similarly, in a civil penalty case, a case may be dismissed under 14 C.F.R Part 13.208(d) if the FAA does not initiate action within two years.

    However, these stale complaint rules do not apply to ongoing investigations where no action has been initiated.  According to the Bade court, the “FAA may conduct an investigation to assure itself that its regulations are being followed, regardless if it ultimately determines civil enforcement or formal charges are not warranted.”

    Similarly, the FAA may investigate a target who is “engaged in a continuing violation of [FAA’s] safety regulations.”  In Bade, the FAA argued it was not investigating stale claims.  Rather, it believed the respondents were engaged in continuing violations where “the statute of limitations restarts every day.”  And the Court agreed.

    (Interestingly, the Court did not address whether this analysis, and its decision, would have changed if the aircraft involved had been sold and/or the flight operations had ceased.  As a result, it is unclear whether the investigation would have been moot if applicable stale complaint rules prohibited enforcement action.)

    The FAA Does Not Have To Tell The Target Of An Investigation About Subpoenas

    Under 49 U.S.C. § 46104(c), an agency must only give notice to “the opposing party or the attorney of record of that party.”  However, an investigation has no “record.” As a result, since the target of the investigation is not the one being deposed nor is counsel to those targets being deposed, the target does not have a statutory right to receive notice of third-party depositions.

    The Bade court also noted that “’failing to receive notice of one or more depositions does not prove that the FAA’s investigation is a sham,’ and has ‘nothing to do with the enforceability of the Subpoenas or the motive of the FAA in conducting this investigation.’”

    So, potential respondents do not get to participate at third-party depositions or receive copies of documents produced in response to subpoenas. This certainly makes defending against an illegal charter investigation a more difficult task.

    The FAA’s Order 2150.3C Is Only “Guidance”

    In Bade the Respondents argued that the FAA had not followed its own policies when conducting the investigation.  Specifically, they argued the FAA failed to follow FAA Order 2150.3 – FAA’s Compliance and Enforcement Program. However, the Court rejected the argument.  It observed that Order 2150.3 is not regulatory.

    Rather, Order 2150.3 merely provides guidelines to FAA personnel for performing their duties. Thus, the Court concluded that the FAA’s failure to strictly adhere to Order 2150.3’s “guidance” did not negate its authority to investigate. Nor did it mean the FAA was pursuing the investigation for an improper purpose.

    Conclusion

    Illegal charter is a high priority for the FAA at the moment, and will be for the foreseeable future.  As a result, the agency will continue to investigate complaints of illegal charter.  It is important to understand how the FAA conducts these investigations and the extent of its authority.

    And it is imperative for aircraft owner or operator who is the target of an illegal charter investigation to know its rights. If you believe you are the target of an illegal charter investigation, contact us now so we can help you navigate the investigation and protect your rights.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP on June 23, 2020.  

  • NAFA Administrator posted an article
    Filing Aircraft Registration Documents With The FAA Registry During The COVID-19 Pandemic: What You see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner with Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, discusses filing documents with the FAA Registry during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

    In another instance of a “new-normal” resulting from COVID-19, the window at the FAA Registry, where real-time filing of aircraft registration documents used to occur, has closed.  Although the FAA Registry is still open (for now), it has implemented new procedures for filing of aircraft registration documents.  Three options are now available for recording documents:

    Document Drop Bins.

    The FAA has placed two bins outside the Public Documents room.   One bin will be marked “Priority” and one bin will be for “Normal” processing (i.e. not priority).  The FAA will retrieve documents from the Priority Bin every hour. It will retrieve documents submitted for normal processing twice a day.

    Documents are filed when they are placed in one of the bins. However, will not be possible to obtain an immediate filing time for the documents as was the case in the past.  Actual filing times will only be available after the documents are indexed in, scanned and available for viewing online.  It is presently unclear how long that process will take.

    E-Mail Filing To An Electronic Portal.

    The FAA has a new e-mail filing process available subject to a number of limitations. Submitted documents must be digitally signed (i.e. Docusign, Adobe Sign, etc.) and each document must be 20 pages or less. Only one aircraft may be submitted in each e-mail and filing fees must be pre-paid at Pay.gov.

    After submission, FAA will send an e-mail acknowledging receipt.  However, documents will be processed during normal business hours with filing times available the same as when documents are filed via the bins.

    Filing Via Mail.

    As has always been the case, documents can still be filed via U.S. Mail, FedEx and UPS. And similar to the bin and e-mail filing, actual filing times will only be available once the documents are processed and in the FAA Registry’s system.

    These new processes will also impact timing for receiving a “fly-wire” and for receiving Form 135 needed to accomplish International Registry filings.  But it is unclear how much longer it will take to receive these back from the FAA.

    Conclusion.

    The good news:  The FAA Registry is still open and processing aircraft registration documents (for now). The bad news:  These updated procedures will result in some delays in closing transactions, and a little less certainty regarding when documents were actually “filed” by the FAA. For example, in a transaction transferring risk of loss at the time of filing, that could present a problem.

    Parties to aircraft transactions should review their documents to determine whether they are consistent with the new procedures. If they aren’t, parties should amend as needed.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP. on March 23, 2020.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    ADS-B Compliance: The Potential Consequences Of Violating Rule Airspace see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner with Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP., discusses ADS-B Compliance and Rule Airspace.

    As most aircraft operators know, or should know, aircraft must now be equipped with ADS-B Out in order to fly in most airspace within the U.S.  Although it is possible to take advantage of limited waivers or exceptions, generally speaking ADS-B Out is required for operations in “Rule Airspace.”

    In connection with this requirement, the FAA recently updated Order 2150.3C – FAA’s Compliance and Enforcement Program to explain potential sanctions for aircraft operations that do not comply with the ADS-B Out mandate.  Specifically, Chapter 9 of the Order now identifies the FAA’s sanction policy/guidance for ADS-B related violations.

    It is important to understand that the FAA will be taking these violations seriously. For example, if the FAA believes an airman is transmitting inaccurate ADS-B Out or transponder information with the intent to deceive, or is operating an aircraft without an activated transponder or ADS-B Out transmission (except as provided in 14 C.F.R. §91.225(f)) for purposes of evading detection, it will revoke that airman’s certificates.

    The sanction for other violations are not as severe, but are nonetheless significant.  The FAA characterizes the severity of the violation based upon levels of 1, 2 or 3, with Severity Level 3 being the most serious. And depending upon whether the FAA views the violation as careless or reckless/intentional, the sanction range could vary from low to maximum.

    The FAA evaluates violations based upon impact on safety.  “Technical Noncompliance” involves violations where serious injury, death, or severe damage could not realistically occur as a result of the violation conduct, even if theoretically possible. A violation with a “Potential Effect on Safety”  occurs in a situation where serious injury, death, or severe damage could realistically result, but under the facts and circumstances would not often occur. Finally, a violation falls into the “Likely Effect on Safety” category where serious injury, death, or severe damage may occur more often as a result of the violation conduct.

    When the operator fails to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements due to technical noncompliance, the violation is considered Severity Level 1. If the failure to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements has a possible effect on safety then the violation is Severity Level 2. And, not surprisingly, when the failure to comply with ADS-B Out performance or broadcast requirements has a likely effect on safety then it is a Severity Level 3 violation.

    The specific sanction will also depend upon the type of violator.  If the violation is by an individual certificate holder, the airman will likely be facing suspension of his or her certificates.  An individual acting as an airman or a business entity will face a monetary civil penalty. In the case of a business, the amount will vary depending upon the size and revenue of the entity.

    So, depending upon the circumstances, an individual certificate holder could face a suspension of his or her certificates for 20 -60 days, 60 -120 days, 90 -150 days, or 150 -270 days, depending upon whether the violation is in the low, medium, high, or maximum range, respectively. Other individuals and businesses could face civil penalties ranging from $100 to $34,174 per violation, depending upon the nature of the violator and how the FAA categorizes the violation.

    In the event of multiple violations arising from the same act or omission, the FAA may give special consideration if the violation was careless, as opposed to reckless/intentional violations which receive no special consideration.  For an individual certificate holder the suspension could be anywhere from 30 -90 days, 90 -150 days, or 120 -180 days, depending upon whether the violation is Severity Level 1, 2 or 3, respectively. And an individual acting as an airman could be assessed a civil penalty in the amount of $5,000 -$10,000, $7,500 -$15,000, or $10,000 -$20,000, again depending upon whether the violation is Severity Level 1, 2, or 3, respectively.

    For other individuals, the civil penalty could range anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000.  And business violators could be assessed civil penalties ranging from $50,000 to $600,000 depending upon the nature and size of the business, as well as the Severity Level of the violation.

    Conclusion

    Order 2150.3C provides the FAA inspectors and attorneys with a checklist for determining sanction in any given case involving an ADS-B violation.  Unfortunately, when a case gets to the point where the FAA is determining sanction, the actual calculations and method for arriving at the final assessed civil penalty is usually withheld.

    However, it is important to understand that the facts and circumstances involved in any given case have an impact on both how the sanction is calculated as well as the amount of the civil penalty assessed.  If you find yourself defending against an alleged violation of Rule Airspace, knowing this information can help you defend yourself and, hopefully, successfully resolve the matter.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP. on February 3, 2020.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    The Flight Department Company Trap see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner with Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP., discusses regulatory issues with owning or operating aircraft.

    Businesses and individuals face many regulatory issues in connection with owning or operating an aircraft. Aircraft owners or operators who are unfamiliar with the limitations imposed by the applicable regulations may unnecessarily expose themselves to liability for non-compliance.

    For example, aircraft owners or operators commonly attempt to shield their liability by creating some form of business entity that is a subsidiary of the “real” operating company to own the aircraft.  Or, rather than forming a subsidiary, they create a business entity to own the aircraft that is solely owned by the individual who really wants to use the aircraft.

    In either scenario, the aircraft is the sole substantive asset of the company, and the business entity is used to maintain and fly the aircraft for the benefit of the parent company or individual owner of the business entity. By structuring the ownership and operation of the aircraft in this manner, the aircraft owner and/or operator has just fallen into the “flight department company trap.”

    I recently presented a continuing legal education program on this very topic for Lawline.  In my presentation, I discussed the various rules and regulations promulgated by the Federal Aviation Administration that have a significant impact on how businesses or individuals are permitted to utilize private aircraft, as well as how to identify the flight department company trap, understand the consequences of creating a flight department company, and available alternatives to avoid falling into the trap and legally conduct private aircraft operations.

    If you would like to learn more, you can view a short clip from the CLE here. Otherwise, you can find other posts discussing this topic here on The Pre-Flight Brief or on our Aviation Law Articles page.  And, of course, if you have specific questions or would like to discuss this topic further, please feel free to contact me.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP. on October 18, 2019.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    Insurance Will Not Cover An Unqualified Pilot in Command see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, discusses aircraft insurance coverage regarding an unqualified pilot in command. 

    If you buy insurance to cover the aircraft you own or fly, you want to make sure the policy covers you and your aircraft if you ever have a problem. It is important to understand that your insurance policy is a contract between you and your insurer. That contract has terms and conditions that spell out the rights and responsibilities of both you the aircraft owner and/or pilot and the insurer.

    As you may be aware, if an aircraft owner and/or pilot does not comply with the requirements of the insurance contract, the insurer can deny coverage. This can sometimes lead to arguments between the insurance company and the insured aircraft owner or pilot.

    This was the situation in one recent case in which the insurance company denied coverage to an aircraft owner whose aircraft was destroyed during an emergency landing. In Hund v. Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh (D. Kan., 2019), the aircraft owner was flying his aircraft along with another pilot. During the flight the aircraft’s engine experienced a loss of power and the other pilot—who was piloting the plane at the time—told the aircraft owner “your airplane,” at which point the aircraft owner assumed the role of pilot in command and attempted to restart the engine. Unfortunately, the aircraft owner was unable to restart the engine and was forced to perform the emergency landing that resulted in the destruction of the aircraft. After the accident, the aircraft owner submitted a claim to his insurer for the value of his aircraft.

    In determining whether to pay the claim, the insurer looked to the insurance policy which addressed coverage for both the aircraft owner as a named insured, and for other pilots operating the aircraft. The policy conditioned coverage on compliance with the policy’s “Pilots Endorsement” which required, unsurprisingly, that the pilot in command have a valid FAA pilot certificate, a current and valid FAA medical certificate, if required, and a current and valid flight review.

    Unfortunately, neither the aircraft owner nor the other pilot satisfied these conditions: The aircraft owner possessed a current flight review, but not a current medical certificate; the other pilot did not have a current flight review. Although these facts were undisputed, the aircraft owner argued that 14 C.F.R. § 91.3(b) suspended the policy requirements during an in-flight emergency, which he and the other pilot faced during the emergency landing.

    14 C.F.R. § 91.3(b) provides that “[i]n an in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the pilot in command may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.” Specifically, the aircraft owner argued that § 91.3(b)’s emergency rule was in effect when he assumed control from the other pilot, and the emergency rules “suspended all other rules” except to do what is necessary to respond to the emergency. The insurer didn’t agree, and neither did the Court when the aircraft owner sued his insurer for denying his claim.

    The Court initially observed that Section 91.3(b) allows a pilot in command to “deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.” It then concluded that Section 91.3(b) applied only to the rules in Part 91, and not the regulations governing pilot qualifications in 14 C.F.R. Part 61.

    Makes sense to me. Certainly, the aircraft owner’s argument was creative. But I agree that the plain language of the insurance policy and the regulations are inconsistent with that argument.

    The moral of the story? If you are going to act as pilot in command, make sure you satisfy both the applicable regulations, as well as the requirements of any insurance policy covering the aircraft you are flying.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, on April 1, 2019.

  • Tracey Cheek posted an article
    Does The “As-Is” Language In An Aircraft Purchase Agreement Make A Difference? see more

    NAFA member, Greg Reigel, Partner at Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP., discusses the "As-Is" Language in Aircraft Purchase Agreements.

    It isn’t uncommon in aircraft purchase agreements to see language stating the parties are agreeing that the aircraft is being purchased “as-is” or “as-is, where-is.” Oftentimes the agreement will go on to also say that the seller is not making, nor is the buyer relying upon, any representations or warranties regarding the condition of the aircraft. And it may also specifically state that the buyer is only relying upon its own investigation and evaluation of the aircraft. But what does this really mean?

    Well, from the seller’s perspective, the seller wants to sell the aircraft without having to worry that the buyer will claim at a later time that the aircraft has a problem for which the seller is responsible. So, the seller does not want to represent that the aircraft is in any particular condition (e.g. airworthy). When the deal closes, the aircraft is sold to the seller in its existing condition without any promises by the seller about that condition.

    Here is an example of how this works: If the first annual inspection of the aircraft after the sale reveals that the aircraft is not in compliance with an airworthiness directive (“AD”) that was applicable to the aircraft at the time of the sale, the buyer could claim that the aircraft was not airworthy at the time of the sale and demand that the seller pay the cost of complying with the AD. But if the purchase agreement has “as is” language, then the chances of the buyer being able to actually force the seller to pay are low.

    Not only does this “as-is” language protect the seller, but it also protects other parties involved in the sale transaction such as seller’s aircraft broker. A recent case provides a nice explanation of the legal basis for this result.

    Red River Aircraft Leasing, LLC v. Jetbrokers, Inc. involved the sale of a Socata TBM 700 where the aircraft owner/seller was represented by an aircraft broker. The buyer and seller entered into an aircraft purchase agreement that included not only “as-is, where-is” language, but it also provided that the buyer was accepting the aircraft solely based upon buyer’s own investigation of the aircraft.

    During the buyer’s pre-purchase inspection of the aircraft, the buyer discovered certain damage to the aircraft. However, the buyer accepted delivery of the aircraft in spite of the damage based upon alleged representations by the broker that the damage was repairable. After closing the buyer learned that certain parts were not repairable. Rather than sue the aircraft seller, presumably because the buyer recognized the legal impact of the “as-is” language in the purchase agreement with the seller, the buyer instead sued the aircraft broker alleging that the broker negligently misrepresented the aircraft.

    In order to succeed on a claim of negligent misrepresentation under Texas law (the law applicable to the transaction), the buyer was required to show (1) a representation made by the broker; (2) the representation conveyed false information to buyer; (3) the broker did not exercise reasonable care or competence in obtaining or communicating the information; and (4) the buyer suffers pecuniary loss by justifiably relying on the representation.

    In response to the buyer’s claim, the broker argued that the “as-is” language in the purchase agreement waived the buyer’s right to be able to prove that it justifiably relied upon any alleged representations by the broker. The buyer primarily argued that the purchase agreement language did not apply because the broker was not a party to the agreement. But the Court disagreed with the buyer.

    The Court found that

    the purchase agreement contains clear language evincing Red River’s intent to be bound by a pledge to rely solely on its own investigation. And, because it appears that the parties transacted at arm’s length and were of relatively equal bargaining power and sophistication, the court concludes that the language in the purchase agreement conclusively negates the reliance element of Red River’s negligent misrepresentation claim.

    So, even though the broker was not a party to the purchase agreement, the Court still held that the buyer was bound by the statements/obligations to which the buyer agreed in the purchase agreement, even with respect to third-parties. As a result, the Court granted the broker’s summary judgment motion and dismissed the buyer’s claims against it.

    Conclusion

    “As-is” language will continue to be common in aircraft purchase agreements. Aircraft sellers and those working with them will certainly want to include and enjoy the benefit from this language. Conversely, aircraft buyers need to be aware of the scope and impact of “as-is” disclaimer language in an aircraft purchase agreement. If a buyer is unhappy with the condition of the purchased aircraft, the presence of this language in the purchase agreement will significantly limit the buyer’s remedies and recourse.

    The information contained in this web-site is intended for the education and benefit of those visiting the Aero Legal Services site. The information should not be relied upon as advice to help you with your specific issue. Each case is unique and must be analyzed by an attorney licensed to practice in your area with respect to the particular facts and applicable current law before any advice can be given. Sending an e-mail to Aero Legal Services or Gregory J. Reigel does not create an attorney-client relationship. Advice will not be given by e-mail until an attorney-client relationship has been established.

    This article was originally published by Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP, on July 1, 2018.