Our hearts go out to the passengers and crew injured on Sunday, December 18, 2022, while flying on Hawaiian Airlines Flight HA35 from Phoenix to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. Unfortunately, the Airbus 330 airplane they were riding in struck severe turbulence while 30 minutes away from Honolulu on a nonstop flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Reports indicate that the aircraft was flying at 36,000 feet and may have been in the vicinity of thunderstorms when it struck the severe turbulence. The aircraft declared an emergency and landed safely at 10:50 a.m. at Honolulu Airport.

Aviation Law Group has commenced its own investigation into the severe turbulence accident. We are currently reviewing and analyzing weather data, radar information, and severe weather advisories that may have been issued.  We are studying numerous SIGMETs that were issued in the area. In aviation terms, SIGMET means Significant Meteorological Information. It is a severe weather advisory that contains meteorological information concerning the safety of flight.  SIGMETs include thunderstorms, icing conditions, mountain waves, and turbulence.  SIGMETs are disseminated with weather information provided to pilots and are also communicated by air traffic control to pilots when the danger of a SIGMET may interfere with a flight. ALG is analyzing SIGMETs in the area for both embedded thunderstorms (which may cause severe turbulence) and turbulence-related SIGMETs.

KZAK SIGMET VICTOR 2 VALID 181745/182145 PHFO- OAKLAND OCEANIC FIR EMBD TS OBS AT 1740Z WI N2445 W15915 – N2130 W15145 – N2045 W15330 – N1930 W16145 – N2330 W16045 – N2445 W15915. TOP FL380. MOV NE 5KT. NC. WSPA09 PHFO 182042 SIGPAV

The SIGMET report for embedded thunderstorms that was present in the area of the HA35 turbulence incident. A SIGMET is a severe weather advisory that contains meteorological information concerning the safety of all aircraft

The known dangers contained in a SIGMET should be avoided. For turbulence, this includes slowing the aircraft down, changing course, and/or altering altitude. Pilots should not only turn on the seatbelt sign but should also fully warn passengers of the potential risks that lie ahead, including the severity of forecast turbulence and the imminent need to buckle up immediately, while at the same time making flight changes to avoid the dangers of turbulence. Time permitting, flight attendants can quickly inspect the cabin to confirm seat belts are on, especially for those passengers sleeping, and flight attendants can further assist parents of laptop toddlers in taking needed precautions.  Currently, it is not known if any of these precautions were taken.

Honolulu Emergency Medical Services reported that 36 people were injured, including a 14-month-old and three crewmembers.  11 people were hospitalized with serious injuries, including a teenager.  Many others that were also hospitalized were reported in stable condition. No one has been reported to be in critical condition.

The aircraft, an Airbus A330, was full with 278 passengers and 10 crewmembers at the time of the accident and was near where it would normally commence its descent toward Honolulu. After the turbulence, the flight crew declared an emergency and made a direct descent to Honolulu International Airport, where emergency responders were staged. The FAA and NTSB are investigating the accident.

The FAA reports that each year approximately 58 people in the U.S. are injured by turbulence on flights when not wearing their seat belts.[ii] For the 28-year period from 1980 through 2008, there were an average of more than 8 turbulence accidents involving 298 serious injuries (184 were flight attendants) and 3 deaths.  The FAA notes that generally, two-thirds of turbulence-related accidents occur at higher altitudes at or above 30,000 feet.[iii]

Aviation Law Group attorneys have experience handling turbulence injury claims against airlines. While airlines are not absolutely liable for every turbulence caused injury, they are liable if they knew or should have known of potentially dangerous turbulence, and failed to take reasonable safety precautions to protect passengers. As airlines are certified air carriers for public transport, they are held not just to regular negligence standards, but as common carriers, they must exercise the highest degree of care consistent with aviation industry standards.

The aircraft operator’s philosophy toward the CAT problem is a crucial element in an effective turbulence avoidance system. Operators should establish the avoidance of atmospheric hazards as a high organizational priority. Operators should be willing to expend resources on the safest operational practices and resist the expedient. The philosophy of avoidance is an integral part of flight planning.

FAA Guidance to Operators on Clear Air Turblence Avoidance, AC No: 00-30C, Federal Aviation Administration

Passengers who are flying on an international ticket (even if the subject flight is only in one country) may be subject to an international treaty called the Montreal Convention. If so, their path to liability for injuries caused by turbulence may be much easier in the U.S. because Article 17 of the Convention merely requires an “accident” to occur, regardless of the knowledge of the flight crew. Case law in the U.S. recognizes that severe turbulence constitutes an “accident” under Article 17, which, in addition to physical injury, is all that is needed to establish liability.

Another area that Aviation Law Group is investigating is what information was known by flight service (weather dissemination) and air traffic control related to the subject area of turbulence for Hawaiian Flight 35.  For example, pilots who notice or fly into unanticipated weather conditions will make a pilot report (PIREP) to air traffic control or the weather service, and report their location and weather conditions. PIREPS can then be shared with other pilots operating in, or planning to fly in, the same area.

PHNL 181806Z 06007KT 4SM RA BR SCT011 BKN020 OVC033 20/19 A2984 RMK AO2 CIG 014 RWY04R P0008 T02000194

PHNL 181853Z 09007KT 4SM -RA BR FEW012 BKN036 OVC060 20/20 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP105 P0034 T02000200

Weather Report at Honolulu at the time of the incident.

The information sharing link must go from the weather experts to air traffic control to the pilots and to the passengers. In other words, did flight service or air traffic control know of severe turbulence that could affect HA35 that was not passed on to the pilots? If so, fault may lie beyond the airline. In addition, beyond warning their passengers, the pilots must take timely and appropriate action to avoid the dangers of moderate and severe turbulence.

If you, or someone you know, was injured on HA35, we would like to talk with you about your experience, and about legal representation.  All of our attorneys are certified commercial pilots and flight instructors, and one is an airline pilot. Unlike most stateside law firms that practice aviation law, we are licensed in Hawaii, and handle cases there.

[i] Clear Air Turbulence Avoidance, AC No: 00-30C, Federal Aviation Administration

[ii] https://www.faa.gov/travelers/fly_safe/turbulence

[iii] Id.