Insurers have begun processing claims in the crash of an Indonesia AirAsia aircraft last month and hope to identify the beneficiaries by the end of January, an official from Indonesia's financial regulator said on Tuesday.
Speculation about insurance payments surfaced after Indonesia's transport ministry said the airline only had permission to fly the plane's Surabaya-Singapore route on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The flight which crashed took off on Sunday, Dec 28.
Firdaus Djaelani, non-bank financial institutions supervisor at the Indonesian financial services authority, told reporters that the incident remained "claimable" despite the confusion over the route permit.
"AirAsia didn't fall because it was a Sunday," he said, adding that initial investigations showed that weather appeared to have been a factor. "Whatever the reason, the airline has to be responsible for its passengers."
The "money has been prepared", he added.
Indonesia AirAsia, 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based AirAsia , has made little comment on the route permissioning, but said it would fully cooperate with investigations.
The next of kin of each passenger will get up to 1.25 billion rupiah ($98,853) from the airline's insurers, PT Asuransi Jasa Indonesia and Asuransi Sinar Mas, Djaelani said. Allianz SE , the lead reinsurance firm, has declined comment on the extent of its exposure, or to identify others exposed to the crash of the Airbus A320-200.
Some passengers may have taken an additional insurance policy via the airline from PT Asuransi Dayin Mitra , Djaelani added.
Elizabeth Quendangen, technical deputy director at Asuransi Dayin Mitra, said the additional payout could be up to 750 million rupiah for each passenger.
The plane had 162 passengers and crew on board when it crashed into the Java Sea around 40 minutes into a flight from the Indonesian town of Surabaya to Singapore. All are presumed dead.
Search teams, which have faced bad weather and rough seas in the crash site, have so far recovered only 37 bodies. The crucial black boxes, the digital data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, which should provide clues on why the aircraft crashed, have yet to be found.
Aviation lawyers told Reuters that the insurers will be liable for almost all of the compensation paid by the airline.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the Montreal Convention, which sets the liability of passengers killed in commercial air accidents to around $170,000 each.
Its airlines are liable under the older Warsaw Convention which limits compensation to around $10,000. However, in the aftermath of a January, 2007 crash of a plane operated by Indonesia's Adam Air, the now defunct carrier offered families around $55,000 each.
Families, therefore, can expect more than the Warsaw Convention allows for, said lawyers.
"It is still early days, of course. But if there is some evidence during the course of an investigation that suggests that there could be additional liability on the airline, it would be prudent and indeed common sense to consider a payment that is higher than the limit," said one Singapore-based lawyer.
"This has taken on a global profile and the attention is on both the government and the airline. They will both want to be seen to be doing the right thing."