Financial compensation for the lives of air crash victims is often a subject of lengthy litigation in Pakistan producing unimaginable suffering and anguish for the aggrieved families. Eight years have passed since an Airblue plane went down in the Margalla Hills north of Islamabad, killing all 152 passengers and crew aboard. It was the deadliest air crash in the country. Yet in all that time the budget air carrier has not been able to reach a final settlement and hand over compensatory cheques or money to all victims’ families.
On Sunday, the apex court ordered Airblue owners to deposit the compensation amount in the court within 24 hours. It is a crying shame that the airline has withheld financial compensation worth Rs5 million to each family for so long. There is also confusion over the exact number of heirs who have received the payout so far. The decree was issued by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar in response to an application submitted in the court against degrees forged by the pilots of different airlines. The air carrier has been asked to submit a list of the victims as well as a record of litigation to the apex court.
Carriers are bound to pay the heirs of air crash victims even if they are at no fault under the Pakistan Carriage by Air Act 2012. The liability may be higher if the carrier is found to be at fault. Unfortunately, there is considerable disparity in the limit of liability between an international passenger and a domestic passenger – with the international passengers entitled to three to four times more than domestic passengers. Now is a good time to end such disparity.
We can expect to find many more skeletons in the cupboard once the Civil Aviation Authority gets different universities to verify the degrees of local airline staff. This may not remove malpractices altogether from the airline industry or make it accident-free, but it will certainly make it more compliant with the rules.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 14th, 2018.
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