In­side Ger­man­wings air­plane dis­as­ter

An­other 150 dead in the lat­est in a spate of dis­as­ters for the avi­a­tion in­dus­try. Although the Ger­man­wings tragedy has been clas­si­fied by pros­e­cu­tors a homi­cide rather than an ac­ci­dent, the slew of head­lines over the last 15 months could leave any­one ques

RISKSA Magazine - - Contents - Sven Hugo

The hu­man tragedy of th­ese in­ci­dents is colos­sal and makes for heartwrench­ing and dra­matic news. For air­lines, knock on im­pacts are con­sid­er­able, and the mas­sive re­cov­ery and in­ves­ti­ga­tion ef­forts are just the be­gin­ning of a long jour­ney to get back on track. RISKSA delves into the real state of risk in the avi­a­tion sec­tor and un­packs how thor­ough cov­er­age can mit­i­gate the mul­ti­ple im­pacts of such a loss.

Flight 4U9525

On 24 March 2015, first of­fi­cer An­dreas Lu­b­itz and cap­tain Pa­trick Sond­heimer steered the nose of a Ger­man­wings Air­bus AB320200 north­east to­wards Düs­sel­dorf, Ger­many, af­ter de­part­ing from Barcelona in Spain. Ger­man­wings Flight 4U9525 – car­ry­ing 144 pas­sen­gers and six crewmem­bers – never made it across the French Alps. It crashed 100km north­west of Nice, killing all on board. Shock per­me­ated the me­dia and head­lines left the gen­eral public reel­ing from the news of an­other ma­jor loss fol­low­ing what seemed to be one of the worst years for avi­a­tion in decades. It wasn’t un­til in­ves­ti­ga­tors re­trieved the data cap­tured by the cock­pit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, or the so- called black box from in­side the plane, that baf­fling ev­i­dence emerged. It ap­peared that some­where above the Alps one of the pi­lots ma­nip­u­lated the auto-pi­lot set­tings to put the plane into a steady de­scent to 100 feet with re­peated ac­cel­er­a­tions in the last eight min­utes be­fore crash­ing at 6 000 feet above sea-level. In do­ing so, he was able to over­ride the auto- se­cu­rity pre­sets that would oth­er­wise have sounded the ex­ces­sive-speed alarm. A French pros­e­cu­tor said this ev­i­dence, cou­pled with record­ings on the voice recorder, con­firms that Lu­b­itz had locked cap­tain Sond­heimer from the cock­pit and, while breath­ing eas­ily as ev­i­denced by the record­ing, pro­ceeded with his plan.

It is im­por­tant to note that at present there are two on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the Ger­man­wings crash: that of the French In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau (BEA) in­ves­ti­gat­ing the im­me­di­ate ev­i­dence of the ac­ci­dent, along­side a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the state, gal­vanised by the loss of hu­man life. The no­to­ri­ously se­cre­tive BEA is yet to re­lease a fi­nal re­port while the French pros­e­cu­tor has al­ready pub­licly stated that Lu­b­itz was di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the crash; a state­ment many ex­perts crit­i­cised as be­ing pre-emp­tive. The fact is, how­ever, that an­other air­plane has gone down af­ter the avi­a­tion in­dus­try last year recorded the high­est loss of life in air­craft crashes in three decades, as shown in a re­port re­leased by the Air Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion (IATA). One could be for­given for think­ing that it is time to switch to boat travel but this statis­tic is mis­lead­ing as the oc­cur­rence of ac­ci­dents for air­lines with IATA membership has ac­tu­ally steadily de­clined year on year from 0.89 ac­ci­dents per mil­lion flights in 2009 to 0.12 in 2014. An air­craft dis­as­ter is, by na­ture, a highly drama­tised event, and the sound statis­tics of the ex­po­nen­tially higher risk of be­ing killed in a bi­cy­cle ac­ci­dent or be­ing fa­tally struck by light­ning than in an air­plane crash will not dampen the ini­tial out­cry. The Malaysian Air­lines flight that went miss­ing in the Pa­cific and a flight of the same air­line that was shot down oc­curred within months of each other and still loom heav­ily. A dis­as­ter like this is trau­matic, but it need not spell the end for the air­line in­volved. Ex­perts agree – and his­tory has shown – that if an air­line has a com­pre­hen­sive in­sur­ance pol­icy, and a cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tion plan in place, it can mit­i­gate and re­cover from a dis­as­ter of the mag­ni­tude such as the Ger­man­wings crash.

In a BEA re­port, Ge­n­e­sis of a Feed­back Sys­tem Based on Hu­man Fac­tors for the Pre­ven­tion of Ac­ci­dents in Gen­eral Avi­a­tion, the bureau warns of the lengthy and in­tri­cate pro­ce­dures that fol­low a plane crash. “In the realm of public air trans­port, tech­ni­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into ac­ci­dents and se­ri­ous in­ci­dents may be­come ex­tremely com­plex, since or­gan­i­sa­tions are highly struc­tured, the par­ties in­volved are clearly iden­ti­fied, and pro­ce­dures are stan­dard­ised,” the re­port notes. The long­tail na­ture of th­ese in­ves­ti­ga­tions has a di­rect bear­ing on li­a­bil­ity claims, and a crash of this mag­ni­tude in­volves the gamut of play­ers in the in­sur­ance in­dus­try. James God­den, head of avi­a­tion at San­tam, says claims in­volv­ing avi­a­tion li­a­bil­ity lit­i­ga­tion can be par­tic­u­larly lengthy due to the in­di­vid­ual terms of each pas­sen­ger and the vary­ing time re­quired for legal mat­ters to run their course. “The com­plex­ity of an avi­a­tion claim will also add to the time­frame due to the fact that [in­put from] var­i­ous ex­perts will be needed,” God­den says. In a state­ment re­leased by Al­lianz Global Cor­po­rate and Se­cu­rity (AGCS), a di­vi­sion of Al­lianz re­spon­si­ble for un­der­writ­ing the Ger­man­wings claim, the in­surer says a pre­lim­i­nary re­serve of ap­prox­i­mately $300 bil­lion was set up to cover all ini­tial claims and costs, in­clud­ing com­pen­sa­tion pay­ments to the next of kin, ac­ci­dent sup­port and in­ves­ti­ga­tion ser­vices of the crash, legal sup­port, as well as the hull value of the air­craft. The li­a­bil­ity for the hull is han­dled by a sep­a­rate con­sor­tium of ‘ hull war’ in­sur­ers. War-risk in­sur­ance cov­ers loss or dam­ages and li­a­bil­i­ties aris­ing from war li­a­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing hi-jack­ing or any un­law­ful seizure or wrong­ful ex­er­cise of con­trol of the air­craft or crew in flight (in­clud­ing any at­tempt at such seizure or con­trol) made by any per­son on board the air­craft act­ing with­out the con­sent of the in­sured. Dave Rin­t­jes, direc­tor at Airspace Africa, a di­vi­sion of Nat­sure In­sur­ance, says he be­lieves the cover of the hull may be set­tled un­der AVS103, where the hull and war un­der­writ­ers have agreed to each cover 50 per cent of the claim un­til the cause of the ac­ci­dent is legally determined.

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