It has been one month since Bhoja Air’s Islamabad-bound aircraft crashed, killing all 127 people on board. No one has been charged, no arrests made and no official terminated. The investigation is pending, and the airline is gearing up to restart flights to Islamabad.
Despite promises, the airline has yet to make public its plan for paying the insurance amount. It has directly started approaching the families of victims to submit documents to prove that they are legal heirs.
“We will pay Rs5 million to each family. That is what the law says,” says Jasir Abro, Bhoja Air’s spokesperson, referring to the Carriage by Air Act 2012. “Up till now, 14 families have submitted the documents.”
But Rs5 million is the minimum compensation, which has to be paid in any case. No one in the airline is ready to share the exact size of the insurance cover of the aircraft and the passengers, which could run into hundreds of millions of dollars.
The insurers of Bhoja Air would want to get away with paying just Rs5 million, said an insurance industry official.
“People are mostly desperate in these circumstances. They will take the money without realising what they actually deserved,” the official said.
The airline appears to be hurrying with the compensation without waiting for investigations into the crash to be completed. The findings, however, could alter the size of the compensation altogether. If it’s proven that the airline or any of its staff was responsible for the crash, Bhoja Air’s liability becomes unlimited – the worth of the passengers is then decided by the court.
That is exactly what happened in case of Air Blue’s 2010 crash. Over two dozen families are filling petitions seeking compensation of around $1 million, a lawyer representing some petitioners told The Express Tribune.
With inquiry into the Air Blue crash challenged in court, there is little room for optimism on how fair the Bhoja crash investigation will turn out to be.
Head of Investigation Team Mujahidul Islam insists there is every reason to be optimistic. “The Ministry of Defence has given me a free hand. That was not the case before.”
The black box has been decoded, he said. “I have all the information on how the plane was being flown, what was the altitude, speed, everything. But nothing could be said about the cause of the accident as yet.”
Islam says he hopes to prepare the report by middle of July. “[Representatives from] Boeing were reluctant to come here because of security concerns but now they have agreed. We are waiting for them to come and share their observations,” he said. He added that Bhoja Air was cooperating with the investigation team.
Bhoja Airs’ Managing Director Arshad Jalil, who also happens to own majority stake in the airline, however, is still on the run, refusing to come back to Pakistan fearing arrest.
Meanwhile, the crash has taken a toll on the airline’s operation as well – it is operating with just one aircraft, a B737-200. The other, larger B737-400 is being inspected by the regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, in Karachi.
A DC-9 aircraft, which Bhoja Air was using earlier, has been sent to Sharjah after some problems were identified in the aircraft in a recent shakedown inspection.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2012.
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