Compensation Delays Raise Suspicions of Airline’s Credibility

An international aviation expert said Tuesday that PMT Air’s continued delay in paying compensation to the families of the 22 people killed in last year’s plane crash in Kampot province falls far short of standard airline practices and begs the question of whether the carrier had adequate insurance.

“Frankly, it’s unacceptable for families to be waiting for years for compensation,” said David Lear­mount, an air safety expert and editor of the London-based Flight In­ter­national magazine.

“I don’t know if it’s unique to Cambodia, but I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said by telephone from London.

PMT’s flight U4 241 crashed while flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville on June 25, 2007, killing 13 South Koreans, five Cam­bodians, three Czechs and an Uzbek pilot.

The families of the five Cam­bodian victims have not yet re­ceived compensation. Neither have the families of the 13 South Korean victims, who filed a lawsuit Friday in a Seoul court seeking $4 million in damages from the airline.

Generally, Learmount said, an airline would reach an early settlement with the families of the victims as receiving the actual insurance company’s payment can last many years.

“Having an accident, for an airline that considers themselves reputable, is a disaster. So you could say it’s very self-interested to give people money,” Learmount said.

“Maybe airlines in Cambodia think there’s no shame in having a crash,” he added.

The International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN’s aviation oversight body, requires all commercial and chartered airlines to hold insurance, Learmount said, although he added that lax government oversight might fail to en­force this.

“One of the things I would be wondering is if [PMT Air is] in­sured at all,” he said.

PMT Air Director Sar Sareth has previously said the insurer of the doomed flight was based in Lon­don, but this week he said the in­surance company is based in the US. The State Secretariat for Civil Avia­tion, however, continues to be­lieve the insurer is based in Lon­don. Neither will reveal the insurance company’s name.

Most probable is that PMT Air has multiple insurers in several Western countries, said Magnus Al­lan, an expert on aviation for Aon, a leading airline insurance broker. Aon usually spreads airline insurance among several underwriters, Al­­lan said Tuesday, because losses from crashes can be so high that no sing­­le insurer can support the claims.

When crashes do occur, he said, the time it takes to receive compensation can last years, during which insurers rarely reveal themselves.

“An aviation incident is incredibly complex. When there are different nationals involved, you’re in different jurisdictions. It adds a further element of complexity,” he said by telephone from London.

Sar Sareth said Monday that compensation will not be paid to any Cambodian families until the law­suit with the South Korean families is resolved.

He said lawyers will need to ne­gotiate for a settlement lower than the $4 million the South Korean families are demanding.

Such wrangling could drag indefinitely through South Korea’s court sy­stem, said South Korean Em­bas­sy Second Secretary Wonjae Uhm.

“I cannot guess if it will take one month or six months or a year,” Wonjae Uhm said Monday.

The South Korean families have blamed the crash on pilot error, problems with Sihanoukville airport’s automated radar terminal system and defects in the Soviet-made plane, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.

Khim Sophorn, secretary of state for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said by phone Monday that the SSCA will not assist the Cam­bo­dian families in claiming their compensation from PMT Air.

“Compensation is always be­tween the family and the insurance,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Cambodian victims’ families all said they’re too poor to afford personal attorneys, leaving the matter of compensation in the hands of the airline, the insurer and the South Korean families.

“I don’t have enough money to find lawyers,” said Heang Sorph­orn, widow of deceased flight engineer Uth Chandara.

Chan Seth, widow of the de­ceased flight pilot Hean Chandara, said she filled out insurance paperwork more than a year ago in order to receive compensation from PMT Air, but she hasn’t heard back from the airline ever since.

“My husband worked for [PMT Air] and made money for this company. I am so sad and angry,” she said by telephone Tuesday.



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