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15 August 2018
On 7 March 2018 the Supreme Court for Administrative Law heard a case where no choice needed to be made – an airplane engine and a bird had collided and met their respective fates.
Bird strikes are not uncommon in civil aviation: every year there are approximately 5,000 to 6,000 incidents costing $1.2 billion worldwide. But this begs the question of who should be held responsible for bird strikes where an airport subcontracts the prevention of bird risk to a third party.
The French court had to decide which party was responsible for this collision, as previous case law on the matter was unclear.
The events of the case unfolded as follows:
The airline operating the airbus sued the airport for damages.
The lower courts found that all of the parties involved were liable:
The airline appealed the court's decision and its liability was consequently dismissed by the Court of Appeal. Even though it was aware of the risk, the operator was entitled to rely on the air traffic controller's go ahead. However, according to the Court of Appeal, Toulouse-Blagnac should have taken reasonable steps to address the lack of rigour in the SPPA's operations. According to the Court of Appeal, the airport and the SPPA had to share the costs of engine repair with the state.
The airport then challenged the Court of Appeal's decision and referred the matter to the Supreme Court. It argued that it could not be held automatically liable for the SPPA's failure. The airport claimed that in order to invoke liability, a lack of reasonable care in its supervision of its agents had to be shown. The Council of State validated this reasoning and concluded that it had not been demonstrated that the airport had shown any lack of reasonable care in supervising its agents.
Thus, the Council of State decided that only the air traffic controller (ie, the state) and the subcontractor in charge of the SPPA were liable for the cost of the engine repair.
Two rules can clearly be drawn from this decision:
For further information on this topic please contact Matthieu de Varax or Wissam Dahmani at Odi-se Avocats by telephone (+33 1 7935 0750) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com). The Odi-se Avocats website can be accessed at www.odise.com.
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