Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, is piloting an effort to fly around a troublesome committee and force the House to vote on a bill designed to save the general aviation industry.
He introduced on Thursday a "discharge petition" for the bill, which would put an 18-year limit on the time that an airplane builder may be sued for defects.If 218 House members - a majority of the House - sign the petition, that will force the House to vote on the bill.
Versions of the bill have been bottled up in the Judiciary Committee for eight years, even though 302 House members are now co-sponsoring it and the Senate passed a similar bill 91-8.
And taking lobbying for it to new heights, Hansen and others even had an airplane circling the Capitol Wednesday pulling a sign urging members to sign the petition.
"We used to make 18,000 small aircraft a year in this country, and now we only make 300 to 400," Hansen said, adding that six companies quit making them because of lawsuits blaming them for crashes of aircraft that were even 30 years old - long after manufacturers lost control of maintenance and other factors.
Rep. Jim Lightfoot, R-Iowa, said at a press conference launching the petition drive, "If I flew a prototype of the Wright brothers' airplane and crashed it, I could sue the Wright brothers. That's ridiculous. There needs to be a limit."
Hansen added, "If Ford and Chrysler were sued like Cessna and Piper are, they would have been out of business long ago."
However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks has not allowed the bill to come to a vote in his committee. Many consumer, travel and legal rights groups want air-crash victims to have unlimited rights to sue aircraft manufacturers.
Hansen said that is unreasonable and has almost killed all U.S. aircraft companies. He predicted that imposing a time limit for suits could restart the industry and create 25,000 jobs nationwide. It could help such Utah companies as Williams International, which makes some aircraft engines.
Even though the bill has 302 cosponsors, it may have trouble obtaining 218 signatures on the