Monday, 22 January 2018

Pan Am pilots’ claim for restitution from Lockerbie bombing fund is rejected

[This is the headline over a report in today's edition of The Washington Post. It reads in part:]

An attempt by pilots of Pan American World Airways, the once-dominant airline victimized by the 1988 mid-air bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, cannot recover money from a $1.5 billion fund created by Libya to compensate victims of the bombing, a Washington-based commission has ruled.

The pilots claimed that the bombing led directly to the demise of Pan Am, costing them their jobs, their health insurance and their pensions. Pan Am folded suddenly on Dec 4, 1991, after an attempt to buy Northwest Airlines and a merger with Delta Air Lines both fell through.

Fifty Pan Am pilots and one flight attendant have been pursuing Libya in the courts since 1994, but it wasn’t until 2013 that they were allowed to file a claim with the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, which reviews claims on the Libyan fund. The commission issued a preliminary ruling against the pilots in 2016, but they were granted a hearing in Washington in December 2016. In that hearing, a number of pilots, as well as former Pan Am executives and economic analysts, tried to make the case that the Dec 21, 1988, bombing, which killed 270 people in the plane and on the ground in Scotland, set off the chain of events which led to the airline’s demise.

But commissioners Anuj C Desai and Sylvia M Becker stood behind their preliminary ruling, and their analysis of Pan Am’s decline, which they said was caused by many other factors, including a recession, airline deregulation, oil price spikes and the first Iraq War. The pilots “failed to prove that,” Desai and Becker wrote, “if not for Lockerbie, Pan Am would have remained in business. Pan Am’s 1991 liquidation was too remote, both factually and temporally, from the 1988 bombing; and far too much happened in the intervening three-year period to hold Libya liable for Pan Am’s liquidation.”

The ruling was issued Tuesday. There is no appeal from the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and the case is over. (...)

Bruce Abbott, the leader of the pilots’ case, said that after the December 2016 hearing at the federal courthouse in the District, “I came away with a very empty feeling.” He said the two commissioners “spent a whole day chopping away at things that were not of significance to the overall presentation.” Almost all of the pilots were military veterans, Abbott said, “and we had answered the call for our nation. We wanted a forum with competent triers of fact. I think we were shut out on that. I don’t think we got a fair hearing and I don’t think we got to the essence of the case.”

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