Ehlers Seeks To Shield Aircraft Parts Suppliers

December 17, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers (R-Grand Rapids) and U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas are working on legislation to protect aviation parts manufacturers from lawsuits.

"The risk of frivolous lawsuits is making it nearly impossible for many aviation parts manufacturers to stay in business," said Ehlers.

In November, Precision Airmotive, a general aviation parts supplier based in Washington state, shut down production of its float carburetor because the cost of insurance exceeded total sales revenue, according to an announcement from Ehlers' office. The company had manufactured carburetors since the 1930s, but despite an excellent safety and sales record, it could no longer afford liability insurance to defend its product in lawsuits.

The proposed legislation, which Ehlers described as "common sense," would protect manufacturers from lawsuits that are driving up insurance costs and forcing some manufacturers to stop production of parts certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“We must tighten up current law to protect these manufacturers from damaging lawsuits while still providing safeguards to consumers," said Ehlers. "A common sense reform will do both without driving manufacturers out of business, just as the original protections in the 1994 law restored growth in the airplane manufacturers industry.” Ehlers noted that numerous manufacturers have cited rising costs related to litigation as a major impediment to their future operations.

“Frivolous lawsuits are making it difficult and sometimes impossible for parts manufacturers to stay in business,” said Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. “It is unacceptable for American manufacturers that produce safe equipment to be shutting down production and laying off workers because of frivolous lawsuits costing millions of dollars in legal fees and increased insurance rates.

“This legislation is desperately needed to restore some balance and fairness in our legal system,” said Bunce. “This is a job-restoring and job-creating measure, and we thank Congressman Ehlers for leading this effort. We look forward to working with him to get this legislation signed into law.”

Ehlers, a research physicist prior to being elected to Congress, serves on the aviation subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Matt Reiffer, legislation director in Ehlers' office, said Ehlers frequently hears from "manufacturers all over the country who are concerned about this issue."

This year the Michigan Legislature approved $500,000 to help manufacturers in Michigan — particularly automotive suppliers — qualify for and win contracts in the aerospace industry. Some of the funding will help the new Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association organize and recruit member companies and promote aerospace manufacturing in Michigan. The funding will also help qualified Michigan manufacturers achieve AS9100 certification, adopted as the quality standard for the aerospace industry.

Gavin Brown, president of the Ada-based Michigan Aerospace Manufacturers Association, said three or four aerospace orders are expected to be placed soon with Michigan manufacturers. Seventeen companies in Michigan are already members of the association, according to Brown.

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