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MH370: Experts' take on responsibility, compensation

By Zhang Zhouxiang | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-31 09:03

A stack of MH370 safety investigation report booklets is pictured at a closed door meeting with family members in Putrajaya, Malaysia July 30, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

Editor's note: On Monday, the Malaysian government released a detailed report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in 2014. Two experts shared their views with China Daily’s Zhang Zhouxiang:

The report is rather disappointing. There are at least three major problems with it.

First, although Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke previously described it as the final and full report, Kok Soo Chon, head of the Malaysian International Civil Aviation Organization Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370, said it is not final and is only about safety recommendations.

The Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, recommends the investigating state of such affairs to release a final report within 12 months, or release a midterm report. It seems the investigators are late as far as the legal schedule is concerned. It is time the investigators came clear about their report.

Second, the investigation team could not determine why the plane went off its flight path, but claimed they were satisfied with the “background, training and mental health” of the pilot and the first officer. They also claimed there were no unusual activities other than game-related flight simulations. Even though the systems in the plane were manually turned off, they were “not of the opinion it could have been an event committed by the pilots”.

It seems the investigation team is more interested in shrugging off responsibility for the airline company and the pilot instead of finding the truth. This is against the Chicago Convention, too, which said the investigation should not try to shirk blame or liability.

Third, the report has safety recommendations to the civil aviation departments of Malaysia, Vietnam, as well as Malaysia Airlines, but the recommendations are rather vague considering the fact that the cause of the tragedy is not yet determined. The recommendations cannot prevent similar tragedies in the future as they should.

It should be noted that, before the whole facts are found, the search for MH370 should not end. The parties responsible for the deed, including the airline company, the plane maker, the engine producer, and the insurance company etc., should shoulder their responsibility by compensating the passengers’ families and offering help.

Zhang Qihuai, lawyer and vice-director of the aviation branch of Beijing Law Society

I agree the report is of little significance. However, for the passengers’ families, it could still be used for legal procedures.

One most important point is that the report concluded “The change in flight path likely resulted from manual inputs”. Although the investigation team could neither confirm who should be responsible for that nor make it clear whether it was an intentional deed or not, that expression provides strong support that Malaysia Airlines should be answerable for the misdeed.

That’s because the pilot and the co-pilot are most likely to cause manual inputs that resulted in flight path change. According to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Act Against the Safety of Civil Aviation, Montreal Convention in short, the airline company should be responsible for the unlawful deeds of its pilots. Malaysia Airlines might face responsibility of compensation without an upper limit.

Another point reached by the investigation team is that when Malaysian air traffic controllers lost contact with MH370, they did not initiate the three emergency phases in accordance with the standard operating procedures (SOP) in a timely manner, which is believed to have caused a delay in the search for the missing flight.

In other words, Malaysian air traffic controllers are partly responsible for the missing of the flight, too. Families of the passengers could sue the Malaysian air traffic controllers for compensation, which might result in state compensation because air traffic controllers serve the state. Of course, the results will depend on the courts.

For the family members of MH370 passengers, money cannot buy their beloved back. However, compensation is still meaningful because it can recover part of their losses; Compensation is also part of judicial justice and let’s hope the courts will be just.

Diao Weimin, an arbitrator at Shanghai International Arbitration Center and a professor on International Aviation Law


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