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Aviation Pact To Streamline Claims

May 29, 1999

MONTREAL (AP) _ An international agreement completed Friday aims to make it easier for families of air accident victims to get immediate compensation and to remove all limits on liability for airlines at fault.

The pact negotiated by the International Civil Aviation Organization requires initial payments of up to $135,000 for each victim killed or injured, regardless of whether the airline was responsible for the accident. All caps on liability would be removed in cases where the carrier is deemed at fault.

The pact represents a major revamping of standards for compensation in international air accidents, based on the 1929 Warsaw Convention, which limited airline liability and set caps of $8,300 on compensation for each victim, the ICAO said in a statement.

The new agreement, negotiated by delegates from 121 of the U.N. agency’s 185 member nations over the past three weeks, must be ratified by at least 30 of the countries to go into effect.

Conference president Kenneth Rattray acknowledged Friday that the international system of accident compensation will remain an unwieldy checkerboard until all member nations adopt the new pact.

``Until all 185 (ICAO-member) states become party there will be no uniform system,″ he said. ``Obviously we hope that all states will become parties. But until that takes place there will still be liability regimes under the old system.″

Compensation in international accidents often is tied up for years. Litigation over the Korean Airlines Flight 007 shot down over Russia in 1983 has been tied up over the question of compensation limits.

Rattray said countries are being urged to pass laws requiring, at least, that immediate compensation be given to victims’ families after a crash to cover their costs.

Airlines themselves are increasingly paying fast compensation voluntarily, Rattray said, citing the example of Swissair, whose Flight 111 crashed last September near Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, killing all 229 people aboard. The cause of the crash has not yet been determined.

``Swissair made advance payments because they recognized the humanitarian issues, and to a large extent I think that example has inspired us to make provisions in that regard.″

``I think the airline industry as a whole is coming around to accepting it,″ he said. ``It is also very good public relations.″

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