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A Global Standard

September 27th, 2013

Thirty years ago aviation disaster family assistance guidance was virtually non-existent. Today it became a global standard.

Today the 38th General Assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization endorsed a document that establishes family assistance policy for member-states worldwide. Endorsement of the ICAO Policy on Assistance to Aircraft Accident Victims and their Families (Doc 9998) means that regardless of where they may live or where an accident occurs, victims and families are entitled to minimum standard of care.  Through effective partnership, planning and implementation, governments and airlines can and must deliver that care.

From day one, family assistance standards have been championed by the extraordinary Hans Ephraimson-Abt. Today’s ICAO endorsement is the culmination of three decades of tireless advocacy after the loss of his daughter on Korean Air Lines flight 007. For all those affected by aviation disasters, and all those involved in responding, the debt of gratitude we owe to Hans is incalculable.

It seems no coincidence that earlier this week the DOT announced its investigation into Asiana’s response to survivors and families after the crash of flight 214 in San Francisco. Accounts suggest the response fell far short of what’s required and what the airline promised to do in its Family Assistance Plan. This is the first investigation of its kind, and it makes it very clear that U.S. family assistance legislation is more than just a helpful set of guidelines, or worse, a toothless dog of a law. It is real, it is serious, and airlines will be held accountable for fulfilling their responsibilities.

Implementation of the ICAO policy will take time, and in some parts of the world it will be more difficult than others. But the message in this week’s news is unmistakeable: family and survivor assistance really IS that important. Being prepared is a global standard. We owe it to victims and their families, and we owe it to our companies and ourselves.

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