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Here's an ATC recording of Virgin and Egyptair aircraft clipping wings at JFK.

Generally, what happens next with regard to sorting out responsibility after a low-speed collision that results in damage to commercially-operated aircraft? (I'm talking about a return-to-gate type of collision where passengers are inconvenienced, rather than a serious evacuation-style incident.) There seems to me lots of factors, for instance:

  • The captains are in charge of their aircraft, but what if ground controllers gave them poor instructions?

  • When a parked aircraft were damaged by a moving one, the former might seem the innocent party, but what if it were stopped in the wrong place?

  • It's possible that an airport itself might have listed incorrect information about its taxiways that leads to a collision.

In automobile accidents, its the insurers who would sit down and come to some agreement, but there's not really an equivalent of the airport in such circumstances. And the stakes are quite high - repairs and delays might be very costly to an airline.

I presume there's always some sort of regulatory investigation, but their prime concern I would think is to stop it happening again, which is not the same as agreeing responsibility and liability. The question is: how do insurers decide who ends up paying, for what is almost always a very expensive error?

plane runway collision source

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  • $\begingroup$ You need to narrow this down, do you mean from an insurance point of view, a regulatory investigation point of view? $\endgroup$ – GdD Dec 4 '19 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Before I ask a separate question, could someone say whether a low-speed on-ground accident is investigated in the same way and by the same people as an accident in the air? $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Dec 4 '19 at 14:35
  • $\begingroup$ @GdD That's part of what I'm asking - does the insurance take it's lead from any regulatory investigation? Or perhaps they're entirely independent. But I'll take out the bit about the pilots, that probably a separate question. $\endgroup$ – Party Ark Dec 4 '19 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Just a note, those two aircraft did not collide on the RUNWAY! That would have likely resulted in a very different outcome $\endgroup$ – expeditedescent Dec 5 '19 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ Yes you're right, I meant the airport generally will amend my question. $\endgroup$ – Party Ark Dec 5 '19 at 14:00
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Insurance is a contract between the airline and the insurance company. Typically, the airline is simply compensated an amount by the insurance company and the case is closed.

Demand to another party for settling damages only occur if the damages is unusually large and one party is mostly at fault. You have to consider the time and cost taken into legal proceedings as well.

Insurance compensation actually occur more frequently than you think. For example, at my airline, someone either forgot to apply the brakes on the food trolley or the brakes failed. Either way the trolley smashed into something during ground operations, resulting in damage to the trolley itself (I heard it was destroyed). Insurance paid us.

Regarding the specific incident about airplane collisions on taxiways, it is highly unusual. My guess would be it was handled as a "special case" in this instance.

You are correct that any investigations, if any, focus on preventing future occurrences rather than assigning blame. Settling damages is a civil matter; as such insurance companies rarely launch their own "investigations". Even if they do, it would just be a corporate and expensive version of two drivers using dash cams to argue who has to pay for the stretched bumper.

At any rate, insurance may compensate the airline even if employees of the airline are at fault. That is what insurance is for.

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