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Is GA "retail" or "B2B", from the consumer rights point of view?

In general:

Consumer legislation protects the buyer, on the principle that the seller is presumed to be the relative expert and the buyer is presumed to be relatively dumb.

At the other end, B2B, transactions can involve all kinds of “unfair” contracts, so long as something is delivered and the agreed payment is made, and it is clear both parties willingly entered into the contract, etc…

However, GA transactions seem to fall into a grey area in between, due to various reasons e.g.

  • pilots are (supposedly) highly trained to know about flying
  • many (or most higher-end) aircraft are bought via a company
  • consumer rights bodies aren’t interested in helping a “rich person”
  • the police are either uninterested or completely out of their depth
  • the vendor tends to keep the aircraft until the payment is made (a similarity to the motor trade, except that the standard of work and behaviour there is generally pretty good these days)
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Maybe in some cases (e.g. where an aircraft is owned by a business), but private aircraft owned by individuals for non-business purposes is no more B2B than doing the family shopping at Tesco. My aircraft is not owned nor operated by a business, but an individual. No grey area at all. If I buy a defective component from LAS, my legal rights are no different from if I buy a defective TV set from Tesco.

Pilots might be trained how to fly, but pilot training for maintenance issues the training pretty rudimentary. Even if they are experts, that doesn’t trump the law. If a car engineer chooses to take their car to some commercial place for work to be done rather than doing it themselves, it doesn’t cause their statutory rights to get stripped away just because they are highly knowledgeable about cars. Same with aircraft.

Last Edited by alioth at 24 Apr 11:08
Andreas IOM

Perhaps my original post was a bit obscure. So let me throw in a real life scenario.

About 10 years ago I was looking at installing a GNS530W in my N-reg plane, to replace the KLN94 and one of the KX155A radios. Actually that’s not a bad mod to do even today – except for the OBS issue below.

I got a quote from an avionics installer who I consider to be completely honest and reputable (both then and today), although probably not up to date on the latest and most obscure intricacies of avionics certification.

The quote, about 9k+VAT, contains this paragraph

In essence, a large chunk of the required paperwork is placed in my department.

This is OK for me because today I have an A&P/IA and will have looked up whether this is a Minor Alteration or a Major. It obviously drives the autopilot and obviously I want PRNAV and LPV (the point is that nobody would pay any big money unless they get PRNAV and LPV) so probably a Major, and that means one of

  • Field Approval
  • DER8110
  • STC

Back then I didn’t know much about this but today I know that none of these are easy or cheap. #1 is difficult (I have done 3 of them so far; the last one took 2 years and cost $1k) because you need someone in the USA to draft it and present it to an FSDO. For #2, this shop would have had to purchase it from a well known UK shop which generated loads of approval packages and sold them on – about 2-3k I guess, maybe more. #3 one would not do for a one-off job, and back then there was no AML STC for this (is there today? – I don’t know; I think only the GTNs were on an AML). I would have got it done somehow.

But your average customer would collect the plane and (assuming it was all wired up correctly) would be happy but it would not be a legal installation. And there is one small detail: the GNS530W would drive my KMD550 MFD but there is a subtle incompatibility which makes the OBS mode useless. I never established the exact detail on this as the two pilots who did this combination were not able to read or write more than 1 line at a time, and it is probable the average customer would never notice either.

And I know the above scenario is not uncommon. I know a guy who installed around 100 GNS430s, way back, with no paperwork.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Are you saying the TB20 is not included in the AML for the GNS530W (FAA) STC from Garmin?

Last Edited by AnthonyQ at 25 Apr 06:23
EGPD / OMDW / YPJT, United Kingdom

“About 10 years ago”

However that isn’t the point.

Well, I know people who would argue that if a KMD550 isn’t on the STC then the installation is illegal anyway because the only permitted wires are what the IM shows

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I’m not a lawyer, but I spend a lot of time working as an expert accountant in complex legal disputes. Any opinion I give below in relation to the law on matters such as this should be taken with a large pinch of salt.. and checked with a qualified lawyer…

I think that a big part of the problem with GA contracts as regards the law is that the GA market is very small so there have been (i) very few cases brought and (ii) there are very few lawyers who know the law in this area. This is compounded by the fact that many (but certainly not all) of the potential claimants are either cash-strapped pilots who fly for a hobby or are poor flying schools, or are very rich owners who throw money at their planes without thinking too much. So it’s not very “professional B2B” by its nature. Instead, by its nature it’s a bit amateurish – on both sides in fact seeing as many of the suppliers are ma & pa outfits.

In the absence of a strong and upheld legal framework the main thing that poor supply companies seem to risk is some bad comment and loss of reputation by dissatisfied customers, rather than instead worrying about the cost of losing an expensive fight in court for having delivered bad product and/or installed it badly in someone’s plane.

There are one or two very expensive and talented law firms out there that deal with aviation matters including with GA. Given the level of their fees, with partners charging more than £600 per hour, I think I’d probably want to be owning a jet before thinking about using their services in a commercially beneficial manner, even with a good claim – remembering that in court, the “normal basis” of cost recovery for a successful litigant, results in an award of only approximately 70% of their legal fees, leaving 30% as unrecovered.

Flying a TB20 out of EGTR
Elstree (EGTR), United Kingdom

Interesting input Howard… I think the key factor here is that using a lawyer is going to be expensive, whereas activating one’s consumer rights (if any) should be a lot cheaper and possibly even free if there is some consumer body willing to take up the case. The 1st problem however will be that almost nobody will understand the complexities…

In the meantime I got this from a UK barrister:

The last sentence is the key one which I was getting at.

One example is the old one concerning the Thielert bankrupcy, where (reportedly) Diamond escaped likely bankrupcy by having separate contracts for the engine and the airframe. It’s obvious that in the consumer sphere could would not be able to do that. Imagine VW selling a car with an engine bought in from say BMW and having a separate contract for it Or better still, and more currently topical, VW saying the ECU was made by Bosch But in the Diamond case most of the customers in question were companies (FTOs).

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

It’s obvious that in the consumer sphere could would not be able to do that. Imagine VW selling a car with an engine bought in from say BMW and having a separate contract for it

It’s actually very normal for boats. The engine (outboard) is usually an “extra” with a contract towards the engine manufacturer. Lots of other “extras” are similar, such as sonar, plotters, radars and so on. A car is a special case in this respect, where the engine is engineered into the car in such a way that you cannot really separate one from the other without doing lots of engineering work to get the car operational again.

Yet, that is exactly what a plane is. The installed kit is usually tightly coupled, with not just wiring but also paperwork.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

If you build an RV, you can buy a Lycoming OEM at reduced price from Vans, or buy another engine separately elsewhere. Even if you buy it from Vans, the guaranties are directly with you and Lycoming. This is the normal thing in the boat world also. Evinrude also sell boats, and then you get a “package”, but it’s the other way around, the boat comes with the engine more or less.

I don’t know if certification changes anything here. I wouldn’t think so, not legally from a consumer rights point of view. Certification is not services or goods that someone sells. It’s the owners duty to assure an airplane is correctly certified. It’s the same thing with cars also. It’s the owners duty to get the car checked every other year, and this check has nothing to do with the usual service given by guaranties by the manufacturer of the car.

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