Family of American Killed in Ethiopian Air Crash Sue Boeing Over Flight Control System
BY PETER BLUMBERG / BLOOMBERG APRIL 4, 2019
Boeing Co., Ethiopian Airlines and aircraft-part maker Rosemount Aerospace Inc. were sued in the U.S. over a plane crash last month that killed 157 people and intensified concern about the safety of 737 Max passenger jets.
The suit filed Thursday in Chicago federal court on behalf of an American citizen who was on the doomed Ethiopian Airlines flight March 10 joins a growing pile of complaints against Boeing, as well as a criminal investigation, following two crashes of 737 Max planes in five months that have killed 346 people.
The family of Samya Stumo alleged that Boeing, Ethiopian Air and Rosemount Aerospace were negligent by allowing a faulty flight-control system for its 737 Max 8 aircraft. The suit also cites a similar malfunction in the Lion Air flight of a 737 Max 8 jet that crashed into the Java Sea on Oct. 29 that killed 189.
Earlier on Thursday, the Ethiopian 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.
Samya Stumo, 24, was the niece of consumer activist Ralph Nader, who 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, the leading U.S. aerospace manufacturer, and its principal regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, 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.
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.
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 Ethiopia 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.