Last updated Friday, November 28, 2014 06:47pm

A woman cries as she walks out of a room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters picA woman cries as she walks out of a room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters picKUALA LUMPUR, Mar 14 — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) will be required to pay the family of each passenger of the missing flight MH370 up to US$150,000 (RM490,000) according to an international aviation convention, an aviation law expert said today.

In some cases, airlines do not even have to wait until a wreckage is found to start doling out compensation, as in the case of Air France which start paying out compensation just days after the its flight 447 disappeared of the coast of Brazil.

“The airline, even if it’s not responsible, is required to compensate the victims’ families,” Mike Danko, a California-based aviation attorney told American magazine Foreign Policy.

Danko had been involved with family of victims of the July 2013 Asiana Airlines crash in San Francisco, who sued the airlines and consequently Boeing in January this year.

“The question, is how much,” said Danko.

The 1999 Montreal Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage by Air, which entered into force in 2003, entitles families to receive up to US$150,000, but it still case-specific.

The Indian government, for example, announced that families of May 2010 Air India Express flight 812 crash victims was liable up to US$160,000 for each passenger.

Meanwhile in the same year, Ethiopian Airlines only paid out US$20,000 per passenger to families of its flight 409 Beirut crash victims.

According to Danko, the payout will also be determined by whose law the suit was filed.

Under the Montreal Convention, families can file their damages suits in multiple countries, and families would usually choose the country where they have the highest chance to win the most expensive settlements, said Danko.

In the Gallery


  • Muslims perform a special prayer for passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane at the departure hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The Royal Malaysian Navy corvette KD Terengganu and a Sea Hawk helicopter from the USS Pinckney conduct a search for a missing MH370 in the Gulf of Thailand March 12, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman wearing a mask against the haze walks past a board saying ‘Pray for MH370’ in front of the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman who cries is seen through a door of a room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • College students in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China hold placards near lit up candles as they pray for passengers of the missing MH370 plane, March 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • College students light up candles as they pray for passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, March 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Malaysia Airlines Commercial Director Hugh Dunleavy sits in front of a large projection screen at a briefing for the family members of passengers on board the missing MH370 aircraft, at a hotel in Beijing March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A woman shouts to journalists, in front of a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014, asking not to take pictures of families of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane MH370. — Reuters pic

  • A woman cries as she walks out of a room for relatives or friends of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing, March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A family member of a passenger on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 reacts during a briefing from the Malaysia Airlines at a hotel in Beijing March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Family members of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 sit on chairs as they wait for news at a hotel in Beijing March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Philippine Navy crew members onboard the Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas Apolinario Mabini (Patrol Ship 36) scour the West Philippine Sea, as they search for the missing Malaysia Airline MH370 plane, in this picture supplied by the Philippine Navy.

  • DCA chief Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya at a press conference on MH370 today at KLIA in Sepang, on March 13, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • DCA chief Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya at a press conference on MH370 today at KLIA in Sepang, on March 13, 2014. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • A man reads a Tamil newspaper with a story about the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on its front page in Kuala Lumpur March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A 'Pray for MH370' message displayed at the digital board at the Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan (PLUS) expressway near the E6 link. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

  • A member of a rescue team takes part in a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, in the Straits of Malacca March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A member of a rescue team looks through binoculars during a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in the Straits of Malacca March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A 'Pray for MH370' projection is seen on the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) building in Kuala Lumpur March 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

In the case of MH370, families may file their suits in Malaysia, where MAS is based; the victim’s country of origin; or the victim’s country of destination, which might not necessarily be Beijing.

Danko noted that this will in turn give an advantage to families who can bypass Malaysian and Chinese courts, especially the families of the nine European and three American passengers.

“In some countries, fair compensation for the loss of a son may be deemed to be US$20,000. In the United States, that may be millions of dollars … That is determined on where you bring suit,” said Danko.

Despite that, all families will be able to sue aircraft manufacturer Boeing, which built the missing 777 jet, in the US.

“Usually what happens are family members who are otherwise unable to bring suit against the airline will bring suit against the manufacturer,” Danko said, referring to an air crash in Brazil where the families sued US companies which operated the jet and made some of its safety equipment.

MAS had said it had offered “financial assistance” of 31,000 yuan (around RM16,000) to the family of each missing traveller from China.

It confirmed yesterday that the same amount has been offered to families of Malaysian passengers, and from other countries as well.

MH370 disappeared without sending any distress calls at 1.30am, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.