Accident

Twenty people were killed when a JU-Air Junkers Ju-52 vintage airplane crashed in the Swiss Alps on 4 August 2018.

The airplane was performing a commercial sightseeing flight under visual flight rules. It took off from Locarno in southern Switzerland and was on its way to the former air force base Dübendorf near Zurich. The wreckage was found 8,330 feet above sea level at Piz Segnas in the rugged mountains of eastern Switzerland.

The Swiss Transportation Safety Investigation Board has opened an accident investigation. The cause of the accident is still unclear, but investigators reported that the airplane entered the valley to the south of Piz Segnas on a north-easterly heading. Approaching the northern end of the valley the airplane initiated a left turn which developed into a spiral descending trajectory. The airplane impacted the terrain almost vertically. There were no survivors.

Liability regime

While many legal issues surrounding the accident have yet to be determined, claims for passenger death will be governed by EU Regulation 2027/97 on air carrier liability, as amended by EU Regulation 889/2002.

Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, but it has adopted most of the EU's aviation laws, including the regulation on air carrier liability, through the EU-Swiss Air Transport Agreement of 1999. The regulation is binding and directly applicable in Switzerland.

The regulation extends the scope of the liability provisions of the Montreal Convention for passenger death to domestic carriage by Community air carriers. A 'Community air carrier' is defined as an air transport undertaking with an operating licence granted by an EU member state or Switzerland.

The regulation contains no limit on recoverable damages for passenger deaths. The carrier is strictly liable for the first 113,100 special drawing rights (SDR) (approximately €137,000). Above that amount, the carrier can defend itself against a claim by proving that it was not negligent or otherwise at fault.

The regulation also requires advance payments to cover the victims' families immediate economic needs after an accident. The advance payments cannot be less than SDR 16,000 (approximately €19,000) per passenger.

Comment

JU-Air, whose full name is the Association of the Friends of the Swiss Air Force, is an air transport undertaking with an operating licence granted by the Swiss authorities. It is therefore subject to the liability regime of the EU regulation on air carrier liability.

For further information on this topic please contact Andreas Fankhauser at Proton Legal LLC by telephone (+41 44 214 69 97) or email (fankhauser@protonmail.com). The Proton Legal LLC website can be accessed at www.proton-legal.com.

This article was first published by the International Law Office, a premium online legal update service for major companies and law firms worldwide. Register for a free subscription.