Friday, August 06, 2021

Kozhikode plane crash: A year on, delayed justice compounds misery of survivors

Thiruvanathapuram: Today marks the first anniversary of the Air India Express aircraft accident at Kozhikode airport that claimed 21 lives. It has inflicted trauma and misery on the lives of survivors and bereaved. TNIE takes a look at its fallout and plight of people waiting for due compensation

As Saturday marks the first anniversary of the worst aircraft accident in Kerala history —  the Air India Express plane crash at Kozhikode airport — survivors and aviation experts remain more disheartened than relieved. On August 7, 2020, a Boeing 737 evacuation flight carrying 190 passengers from Dubai overshot the table-top runway at Karipur, killing 21 people, including the two pilots and injuring several others. 

But so far, no substantial progress has been made in terms of investigation into the aircraft accident by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, which is crucial for survivors, kin of victims and even for the airport operator in many respects. For instance, soon after the crash, the airline had provided an interim compensation to victims apart from footing the medical bills of survivors. Now, the airline company is negotiating with the survivors and the kin of those who died in the accident for final and full compensation.

According to Article 21 of the Montreal Convention, which imposes penalties on carriers for the death of passengers due to negligence and fixes a higher insurance premium towards air disasters occurring on international flights, the airline is liable to pay up to 1,13,100 Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) for each passenger in case of death. This was later amended by the Centre in 2016, by bringing Carriage By Air (Amendment) Act of 2016, based on the Montreal Convention in 2009, which unifies rules governing compensation to passengers globally. 

“As per the provisions of the Montreal Convention, the value of the SDRs is calculated as defined by the International Monetary Fund. Further, if it is proved that the accident was due to the negligence or other wrongful act or omission of the airlines, its staff or agents, there is no upper limit for claiming the compensation amount. But for claiming the higher compensation, it is necessary to establish the cause of the accident,” said Jacob K Philip, aviation expert. 

When the investigation team was appointed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), they were told to submit the report in five months. But a year on, the agency is yet to release the investigation report. It has not even submitted the interim investigation report and transcripts of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder that provide vital links to establish the cause of the accident. Soon after the accident, the aviation regulator DGCA suspended the operations of wide-bodied aircraft from the Kozhikode airport, giving a severe jolt to the expansion dreams of the airport. 

“The aircraft involved in the accident was a narrow-bodied aircraft but the DGCA suspended the operation of wide-bodied aircraft. Despite the airport upgrading the facilities as requested by the expert panel that visited it after the accident, the operation of wide-bodied aircraft is yet to be re-established. At the time of the assembly elections, the central experts reviewed the feasibility of landing the B777 aircraft — Air India One — used by the Prime Minister. Earlier, the Centre was of the opinion that the operations of wide-bodied aircraft would be resumed after the monsoon period. Now, the Union Civil Aviation Ministry has communicated that it would review the decision after vetting the accident report,” said the office of Kozhikode MP M K Raghavan. 

Dr Sajjad Hussain, brother of Sahira Banu, 29, who died along with her 10-month-old son Azam Muhammad, said a majority of the victims or their relatives are awaiting the accident report to negotiate compensation. There are some grievously injured people who received `50 lakh and `7 crore as compensation. At the same time, there are also people who received `30 lakh for the death of the breadwinner of a family. 

Ashraf, 37, of Nadapuram, who was injured severely in the accident and is unable to walk, said: “Medical expenses were borne by the airline and I haven’t accepted the company’s compensation offer as I have to undergo one more surgery.”

Recently, in response to a query by Malappuram MP Abdussamad Samadani, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the probe is in the final stages and is likely to be made public in August.   

07/08/21 Dhinesh Kallungal/New Indian Express

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