KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has asked family members of passengers on board missing flight MH370 to return home to wait for updates, even as they announced they will make advance compensation payments as soon as possible.
"From past experience, we understand the continuing search and investigation would be a prolonged process. While Malaysia Airlines is committed to continuing its support to the families during the whole process, we are adjusting the mode of services and support," MAS Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement released on Thursday.
"Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends," he said.
MAS will close its assistance centres set up at hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur to provide support to the families by May 7, Mr Ahmad said, adding that the airline will continue to support the families through two new centres in the cities.
"MAS representatives will keep in touch with families on updates in the incident through phone calls, messages, the internet and face-to-face meetings.
"The detailed plan of follow-up support and services will be informed in person to the families," he said.
Mr Ahmad also said MAS will make advance compensation payments "as soon as possible" to the nominated next-of-kin who are entitled to claim compensation "in order to meet their immediate economic needs".
"Such advanced payments will not affect the rights of the next-of-kin to claim compensation according to the law at a later stage, and will be calculated as part of the final compensation," he said.
"Immediately after the next-of-kin have returned home, our representatives will be in touch with them at the earliest opportunity to initiate the advance compensation payment process."
The statement from Mr Ahmad came ahead of the release of a preliminary report on MH370 on Thursday. The report is said to be the one that Malaysia had sent to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the United Nations body that governs global aviation.
The Boeing 777-200ER, which had 239 passengers and crew on board, disappeared off civilian radars on March 8 while on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Relatives of those on board have accused the Malaysian government of bungling the early phase of the search and of keeping them in the dark about the details of the incident.
The search moved to the Straits of Malacca a week after the plane disappeared following radar data that confirmed the aircraft made a turn back. The search was expanded after satellite data showed it could have taken a course anywhere from central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.
Satellite data eventually showed that the aircraft flew to the southern section of the Indian Ocean, off the coast of western Australia, where a massive search of the waters and underwater has still not yielded any evidence of the aircraft.
Despite a massive air and sea search involving more than 20 nations, no debris from the plane has been found.
The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in Australia, which is overseeing the search, has announced early this week that the search operation will be moving to a new phase in the coming weeks with plans to intensify the undersea search by deploying more technologically advanced assets in the search zone.
The Malaysian government has also announced its decision to establish an international investigation team with accredited representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, China, France and Singapore, as well as representatives from relevant international organisations and the civil aviation industry.
This investigation is an independent process in accordance with ICAO standards and recommended practices. Malaysia Airlines commits itself to fully support this independent investigation and provide full information and assistance as required.