Pan Am pilots to claim millions over Lockerbie

Pilots who lost their careers and pensions as a result of the collapse of the Pan Am airline following the Lockerbie bombing will be able to claim part of a proposed multi-million-pound compensation fund to help the “living victims” of the atrocity.

Thursday, 1st October 2020, 10:22 pm
A policeman walking nearby the cockpit of the 747 Pan Am Boeing that exploded, killing all 259 on board and 11 on the ground.
A policeman walking nearby the cockpit of the 747 Pan Am Boeing that exploded, killing all 259 on board and 11 on the ground.

Susan Collins, who has introduced legislation to the US Senate pushing for the fund’s creation, said it would help “create a process to seek justice” for a group of pilots who lost everything after Pan American World Airways went into bankruptcy and subsequently closed.

If approved, it would bring to an end a 26-year fight for compensation by scores of pilots who have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to pursue the Libyan state in the courts.

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They have long argued that the 1988 bombing set in motion a chain of events which led to the demise of the airline less than three years later.

Collins, a veteran senator, characterised the Pan Am pilots as “terrorism victims”.

Under her bill, known as the Justice for the Living Victims of Lockerbie Act, an initial £15.5m compensation fund would be established, allowing a select group of Pan Am pilots to make a claim. Each individual claimant – or their families – would be eligible for up to £310,000.

Her move comes two years after US authorities ruled that a select group of former Pan Am pilots were not eligible to apply to a £1.1bn fund created by Libya to compensate victims of the bombing.

The new tranche of compensation would come from what remains of that fund, which is being held by the US treasury. Only a small number of retired senior pilots who sued Libya 26 years ago would be able to stake a claim.

Pan Am’s demise was sealed in December 1991 after an attempt to purchase Northwest Airlines and a merger with Delta Air Lines both fell through.

However, the US Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, the body tasked with determining who was eligible for the Libyan compensation fund, ruled that the airline’s collapse was attributable to a range of factors, including oil price spikes, recession, airline deregulation, and the first Iraq War.

The Pan Am pilots’ claim was the last one adjudicated by the commission, and the fund is now exhausted.

Bruce Abbot, one of several former pilots to address the commission during its hearings, said at the time: “The tentacles of this thing, they are long and they reach deeply.

“They affected many people whose names are not found in the graveyard. We’re here seeking justice, which I know is due. Overdue.”

Collins, a Republican who represents the northeastern state of Maine, said the “infamous act of terror” which led to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, spelled the beginning of the end for the airline.

“The media coverage of the terrorist attack wreaked havoc on Pan Am sales, leading to its bankruptcy,” she explained.

Joanne Young, counsel to the Pan Am pilots and a managing partner at Kirstein & Young, a Washington DC-based law firm, told Scotland on Sunday the legislation provided “long awaited recognition and relief” to those senior pilots “who have yet to be acknowledged for the lost careers, pensions and savings”.

“While relief has been provided to airlines, including airline pilots, after aviation disasters, including the 11 September 2001 attacks and the dramatic decrease in passenger travel caused by Covid-19, the former Pan Am pilots were the first examples of airline vulnerability to crisis, having lost everything,” she said.

“Due to circumstances out of their control, they were uniquely harmed by Lockerbie and deserve the same relief other similarly situated airline employees have received.

“Passage of this legislation will provide… deserved recognition that they are indeed the ‘living victims’ of the Lockerbie bombing.”

At the time of the airline’s collapse, most of the pilots were former military veterans in their fifties, and due to the mandatory retirement age of 60 at the time, they were unable to secure employment with other airlines.

Collins’s proposed bill is currently awaiting consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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