Nader Seeks 737 Max Recall as Boeing Woes Mount Over Crashes

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04 april 2019, 16.19

(Bloomberg) -- Just hours after Ethiopia demanded Boeing Co. fix flight controls blamed for the crash of a 737 Max 8 jet last month, the parents of an American victim sued the company, and her grand-uncle, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, called for a boycott and recall of the plane.

The flurry of new legal woes came as Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dennis A. Muilenburg apologized to the victims’ families and the company faced a growing pile of complaints, along with a criminal probe, after two 737 Max jets crashed within five months.

“We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 Max accidents,” Muilenburg said in a statement Thursday on the company’s website, adding that Boeing is committed to fixing flaws identified in the crash reports. “It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it and we know how to do it.”

That wasn’t enough for the parents of Samya Stumo, 24. They sued Boeing, Ethiopian Airlines and aircraft-sensor maker Rosemount Aerospace Inc. for negligence in connection with the death of their daughter in the March 10 Ethiopia crash.

Boeing was “blinded by its greed” and rushed the 737 Max 8 to market with the “knowledge and tacit approval” of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, while hiding defects in its automated flight-control system, Stumo’s parents alleged in their lawsuit, filed in federal court in Chicago. They cited a similar flaw in the Lion Air flight of a 737 Max 8 jet that crashed into the Java Sea on Oct. 29, killing 189.

Separately, the family made a wrongful-death claim with the FAA’s regional office in Des Plaines, Illinois, accusing the regulator of failing to prevent last month’s disaster. It is the first formal complaint the agency faces over its role in certifying Boeing 737 Max planes as airworthy.

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On Friday, state-owned Ethiopian Airlines said it is reconsidering its order for 25 additional 737 Max jetliners because of the “stigma” surrounding the aircraft. A day earlier, the nation’s transport minister called on Boeing to review the 737 Max flight-control system before allowing planes to be used, after a preliminary government report showing the doomed jetliner couldn’t recover from an uncommanded and persistent nose dive shortly after takeoff.

The lawsuit alleges that decisions by Boeing leaders contributed to the crash and “demonstrate Boeing’s conscious disregard for the lives of others,” including designing an aircraft with a flight-control system that is “susceptible to catastrophic failure” in the event of a single defective sensor made by Rosemount Aerospace.

Stumo, originally from Sheffield, Massachusetts, was traveling in Africa as part of her job with ThinkWell, a health-systems development organization, according to a statement from her family’s attorneys.

“Those planes should never fly again” and consumers should boycott the jets, Nader said, speaking remotely by telephone during a press conference at the Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, where Stumo’s parents also spoke. “Those planes -- the 737 Max 8 -- must be recalled.”

Nader became famous in the 1960s for skewering the U.S. Federal Trade Commission over the regulator’s shortcomings in policing serious safety problems in the auto industry.

Boeing declined to comment directly on the lawsuit, but said it’s cooperating fully with investigating authorities. The company also said it’s reviewing the Ethiopian minister’s report “and will take any and all additional steps necessary to enhance the safety of our aircraft."

Rosemount Aerospace declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Boeing and the FAA have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks over claims their relationship is too cozy. The FAA is responsible for regulating aviation in the U.S. and operating the nation’s air traffic control system.

“Sadly, these two entirely preventable airline crashes demonstrate that the FAA is ill-equipped to oversee the aerospace industry and will downplay serious hazards and safety risks to the public rather than sound the alarm about safety concerns, problems, issues and hazards that pose substantial, probable, and/or foreseeable risks to human life,” attorneys for Stumo said in the lawsuit. “Boeing, and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions.”

‘Equally Culpable’

In the claim filed with the FAA, the Stumo family said the agency is “equally culpable” with Boeing.

“The FAA approved and/or certified Boeing’s design for its new aircraft despite its substantial flaws because the FAA had negligently hired and/or trained its employees," the family alleged.

The chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee said this week that whistleblowers have come forward to report that FAA safety inspectors, including those involved with approvals for the 737 Max, lacked proper training and certifications. Senator Roger Wicker, a Mississippi Republican, said those claims prompted him to investigate potential connections between training and certification shortcomings and the FAA’s evaluation of the airliner.

The Senate panel’s probe is the latest in a string of investigations by U.S. officials and lawmakers into how the FAA cleared the 737 Max as safe to fly. The Transportation Department’s inspector general is reviewing the FAA’s process for approving the airworthiness of new jets and aiding a Justice Department criminal probe.

Criminal Probe

A grand jury convened by U.S. prosecutors last month subpoenaed a former Boeing engineer demanding he provide testimony and documents related to the 737 Max.

FAA Acting Administrator Dan Elwell has said the agency “welcomes external review of our systems, processes and recommendations.”

Boeing faces the prospect of substantial payouts to the families of passengers if it’s found responsible for both the Ethiopian Air and Lion Air crashes. But legal experts have said the second disaster could prove even more damaging for the company. That’s because plaintiffs will argue the manufacturer was put on notice by the earlier tragedy that there was something dangerously wrong with its planes that should have been fixed.

The lawsuit is Stumo v. Boeing, 19-cv-2281, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division (Chicago).

(Updates with Ethiopia rethinking 737 Max purchases.)

--With assistance from Kim Chipman.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Dolmetsch in Federal Court in Manhattan at cdolmetsch@bloomberg.net;Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce15@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Steve Stroth, Peter Jeffrey

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