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Courts around the country are divided over the question of whether flight schools can be held liable for negligent pilot training that results in an air disaster. One group of courts have held that claims against flight schools are barred under the “educational malpractice” doctrine that protects institutions of learning from judicial interference. Other courts have concluded that flight schools provide highly specialized safety instruction that imposes a duty of care and resulting liability when the breach of that duty leads to harm.

The question will likely become more important with the recent expansion of airline training programs. To bolster their depleted pilot ranks, air carriers are creating “ab initio” flight schools that transform individuals with no flight experience into first-officer candidates. For example, last month American Airlines announced the creation of its “Cadet Academy.” The program will give students 18 months of flight training, access to deferred student loans and, at the end of the program, a seat at the interview table with the airline’s regional carrier subsidiaries. Jet Blue and United Airlines have created similar schools.

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