'Failsafe'? The effect of advanced automation on commercial aviation liability law

by Dayan Hochman

Institution: McGill University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Air and Space Law
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2092262
Full text PDF: http://digitool.library.mcgill.ca/thesisfile141588.pdf


Modern aviation is most arguably defined by the presence of automation in the cockpit. From the inception of jet transport, computers have been an omnipresent symbol of assurance against the certain uncertainty of human error. In the business of commercial aviation, computers are considered to be the first line of defense against risk. Major manufacturers, such as Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Dassault, and Eclipse have updated the design of their most modern aircraft to include state-of-the-art computing systems and 'fly-by-wire' technology under the guise that the computers always know best. However, pilot certification programs and the international regulatory laws that govern them must be equally revised to insure the human component - as the other side of the equation of modern day aviation - is always up to task. Many of the most recent major accidents and incidents over the last three decades have been the result of automation errors or failures in human response to those errors. This thesis explores the effect automation and the incidents caused as a result thereof have had on the dissemination of liability amongst major aircraft manufactures, insurers, and airlines in the wake of such events. It also explores the effect, if any, these issues have had on products liability, aviation insurance, and private international air law. And lastly, this thesis suggests both regulatory and educational reforms the industry could adopt to reduce dangers associated with automation complacency in hopes of eventually reducing or even eradicating such risk. Despite the threat of catastrophic litigation and demands by the public and leading regulatory authorities for improvements in regulatory policy and laws, however, industry motivation to address problems with automation through specific improvements in training, technology and design continues to remain low; therefore creating a seminal question lingering amongst all members of the modern aviation industry: can the advanced complexity of automation ever be considered failsafe against the imperfection of man? This thesis sets out to explore this quandary. L'aviation moderne se caractérise sans aucun doute par l'automatisation des diverses opérations de la cabine de pilotage. Ainsi, depuis les débuts du transport aérien, les ordinateurs ont contribué à pallier aux possibles erreurs humaines. Dans le secteur de l'aviation commerciale, les ordinateurs sont considérés comme l'un des moyens de défense les plus efficaces face aux risques. D'importants manufacturiers tels que Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, Dassault et Eclipse conçoivent désormais leurs avions en y incluant les toutes dernières technologies informatiques et des systèmes de commandes de vol électriques, au motif que les ordinateurs sont plus efficaces. Toutefois, les programmes de certification des pilotes et les réglementations internationales qui les encadrent doivent également faire l'objet d'une révision afin d'assurer que la composante humaine, l'autre partie de l'équation de… Advisors/Committee Members: Paul Stephen Dempsey (Internal/Supervisor).