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What is a pilot's standard of care to passengers?

Pilots who operate aircraft owe a duty of care to passengers aboard their planes. A breach of the duty owed, which causes injury, may make a pilot and even an airline legally responsible, or liable, for injuries and damages to persons and property. As with other professions, however, the particular duty owed and the kind of breach that may occur is specific to airline pilots and their professional responsibilities.

In general, it is expected that pilots will have been subject to education and professional training sufficient to qualify them to operate their aircraft. Each particular airline pilot is held to that minimum standard of care applicable to all airline pilots. In order to understand that standard, one can look to the affirmations and commitments generally acceptable within the profession for guidance.

An advocacy group known as the Air Line Pilots Association, International has published a code of ethics for pilots, which articulates and provides insight as to what constitutes an airline pilot’s duty toward passengers, airlines, crew and employees, and other pilots. Airline pilots, for example, are expected to perform their work safely and with good judgment notwithstanding “external pressures” and “personal desires.” They are expected to make the safety and well-being of passengers their “primary responsibility.” Airline pilots are at times given command over their crew. Accordingly, a pilot may be responsible for the acts of others who act pursuant to that command.

Pilots must discharge their duties in a manner that meets the requisite standard of care of all pilots. While failure to do so, either by direct acts or by omissions, may make a pilot liable for damages that flow from such negligence, success in executing their operations makes flying more safe and builds trust in the public.

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