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The Adfaa And September 11

In 1996, to address concerns that the families of airline crash victims were not receiving timely information, Congress passed the Aviation Disaster Family Assistance Act (ADFAA) (49 USCA § 1136; 49 USCA § 41113). The act requires airlines to submit a plan to the National Transportation Safety Board that would address the needs of the families of passengers who are involved in any aircraft accident that results in a major loss of life. Once approved, the carrier must make a GOOD FAITH effort to carry out the plan.

Plans approved under the ADFAA have some minimum requirements for notification and care of families affected by an airline crash. Among them are that the airline carrier must set up, publicize, and staff a toll-free telephone line that passengers' families can call for information. The carrier must also cooperate with the independent, NTSB-appointed nonprofit (i.e, the Red Cross) to provide an appropriate level of aid and support. In addition, the carrier must assist a passenger's family in traveling to the crash site, as well as provide for their physical needs while at the accident location. Finally, the carrier must respect a family's wishes for burial, a memorial, or a religious ceremony, and get the input of all families before any memorial is erected in memory of the passengers.

The ADFAA provides limitations on the liability of airline carriers for passenger lists. The act states that a carrier may not be liable for damages in preparing or providing a passenger list, unless the conduct of the air carrier was grossly negligent or constituted intentional misconduct. Further limiting airline liability, the ADFAA provides that no unsolicited communication concerning a potential action for personal injury or WRONGFUL DEATH may be made by an attorney or any potential party to the litigation to an individual injured in an airplane accident, or to a relative of an individual involved in the accident, before the 45th day following the date of the accident.

The provisions of the ADFAA became crucial on September 11, 2001—the day that four domestic airplanes were hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. In the aftermath of that tragedy, the government built on the ADFAA by passing the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act (ATSSSA) (Pub.L. 107-42, Sept. 22, 2001, 115 Stat. 230). This act took into consideration the devastation wrought on U.S. airlines on September 11 and enacted measures to try to ensure their survival.

In addition to compensating airlines for direct losses incurred as a result of September 11, the ATSSSA established a framework for computing the maximum grant that an airline could claim as compensation. To streamline efforts, it set up the Air Transportation Stabilization Board to review the prospective loan applications. The act attempted to protect the insurance industry, as well as the aviation industry, by limiting the claims that could be made upon them.

The act also established the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 to deal directly with the needs of families who were victims of the SEPTEMBER 11TH ATTACKS. The fund provided direct financial assistance to families so they would not have to endure lengthy court battles. Liability for all third-party losses was transferred from the airlines to the U.S. government and a waiver system was established so that families could not sue the airlines for damages as a result of the terrorist attack at any future date.

Security measures for airlines have also been upgraded since September 11. The government took over security at airports from private companies through the creation of the Transportation Security Administration. In addition, cockpit doors were reinforced, passengers were limited in what they could bring on to flights, luggage screening was upgraded, and pilots were allowed to carry guns to protect themselves on flights.

Despite the ATSSSA and the increased security measures, however, the September 11 attacks had a disastrous effect on U.S. airlines. A little over a year later, two major airlines, U.S. Airways and United Airlines were in bankruptcy, with a good chance that others would follow. And the threat of low-cost airlines, such as Southwest, combined with a widespread decline in flying, made the business plans of most major airlines insupportable. All major airlines except Southwest saw huge losses in 2001 and 2002. As of 2003, it was not clear who would survive this latest shakeout or what the future of the airline industry would be.

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