Recent plane accidents spark concern over air travel safety
An international travel law expert is calling for tighter regulations for air travel in the wake of the fatal plane accident involving a Cessna 206 small aircraft in Malawi which killed several Britons on 16 June 2007, and the loss in May of a Kenya Airways Bing 737 over Cameroon, with the loss of 114 lives, 5 of them British citizens.
Clive Garner, Head of the International Travel Litigation Group at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, and an aviation specialist believes that more needs to be done to reduce the risks involved when engaging in air travel in some parts of Africa.
Statistics show that air travel in Africa carries above average risks. While only 4% of the Worlds air traffic passes over Africa, over the last 6 years, over 17% of the Worlds fatal air crashes have occurred there. This is obviously a cause of great concern and while it is important to recognize that even in Africa, flight is still a relatively safe form of transport, more needs to be done to improve the safety of air travel.
"While there are many factors which can cause a fatal plane accident, more should be done to improve the regulation and licensing of carriers. It is vital that aircraft maintenance is always carried out to the highest standards" says Clive.
"Beyond that I also believe that there must be greater commitment to efficiently and effectively investigate air accidents and ensure that lessons are learned.
"Investigations need to be thoroughly undertaken but, often, unnecessary delays in finalising reports of investigations adds to the suffering of those affected by aviation accidents.
"Statistics collated between 1945 and May 2007 show that 318 plane crashes have occurred over African airspace from 2001 to May 2007.
"The pilot and all passengers, including five Britons, died in the Malawi crash which is believed to have occurred in poor weather conditions.
Clive continues: "Tragically, there were no survivors from the loss of the Cessna aircraft in Malawi earlier this month. The cause of the accident is as yet unknown and I urge the aviation authorities in Malawi to investigate the reasons thoroughly. Meanwhile our thoughts are with the families of those who lost loved ones in the incident and who will be searching for answers as to why the plane crashed."
Mr Garner recently represented a couple from Lincolnshire - Mr and Mrs Holland - who recovered £340,000 in an out of court settlement after the single engined Cessna 208B Aircraft they were travelling in crashed in Tanzania following engine failure.
The Hollands suffered serious injuries whilst on a safari holiday in Tanzania to celebrate their 36th wedding anniversary. The Cessna they were flying in was operated by Regional Air Services Limited in Tanzania and the engine was maintained and serviced by AirKenya Aviation limited, a company based in Kenya.
Mr and Mrs Holland sought damages in the English Courts against Regional Air Services Limited, AirKenya Aviation Limited, and the tour operator that arranged the package holiday, Okavango Explorations (UK) Limited, trading as Hartleys Safaris.
Aviation lawyer explains plane accident claims abroad
The complex legal action involved claims against three defendants, one in England, one in Kenya and one in Tanzania.
Mr Garner explained: "The accident occurred in Tanzania during the course of an internal flight and while the Montreal Convention provides a reasonable level of protection for passengers injured in international flights, the Conventions provisions and its rules on payment of compensation did not apply for domestic flights in Tanzania.
"Despite this, they were able to bring their claims in the English courts, but Kenyan and Tanzanian law was relevant to a number of issues. Experts in a number of fields including aviation safety, operation and maintenance were instructed by us to investigate the cause of the engine failure and the adequacy of the maintenance of the Cessna plane they were flying in.
"After a tough legal battle, I was delighted that settlement was agreed with all three Defendants. If the Montreal Convention for International Carriage by Air had applied to their claims they would have recovered a significantly higher level of damages. It is crucial that passengers are compensated appropriately when things go wrong and I certainly hope that the protection offered by the Montreal Convention (and which also applies to domestic flights within the EU) is extended to all air travel throughout Africa.
"The overriding concern, however, has to be to improve the safety of air travel in parts of Africa following the recent and tragic history of aviation casualties there and the appalling loss of life which has resulted. It is essential that regulatory and legislative steps are taken to significantly reduce the risk of similar tragedies occurring in the future and to accelerate the investigation of incidents when things do go wrong. At the same time enhanced protection and compensation is needed for the victims of aviation disasters and their families."