Boeing was hit with two wrongful death lawsuits on Thursday (16 May), which claim that the US aerospace giant did not do enough to prevent the fatal crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight in March. Boeing is currently trying to get its grounded aircraft back into service.
Two lawsuits have been filed with a US court against Boeing, following the deaths of a Belgian and an Italian passenger who were on board when an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash killed 157 people on 10 March. Forty-five Europeans were among the dead.
Legal action on behalf of the families of Ghislaine De Claremont, from Wallonia, and humanitarian worker Virginia Chimenti, from Rome, was filed in Chicago.
The complaint alleges that “Boeing failed to properly brief its own test pilots regarding important details regarding MCAS (Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System)”. A fault in the system repeatedly forced the front of the doomed plane down into its fatal nosedive.
It adds that the 737 MAX-8 aircraft were sold “to airlines despite knowing that a safety feature, known as the angle of attack disagree light, designed to immediately inform pilots that one of the airplane’s angle of attack sensors had failed, was not working in the airplane.”
Thursday’s lawsuits bring to four the total number against Boeing, in addition to legal action by the US company’s own shareholders.
Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 prompted a global scandal in the aviation industry, as investigators found that the cause of the crash was the same as the one that brought down an Indonesian flight in October 2018.
After a brief delay, the company’s fleet of 737 MAX 8 and 9 planes were grounded by regulators around the world.
The root of the problem
Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft were fitted with the MCAS system but a combination of software and sensor problems meant that the plane’s nose would be automatically forced down, as an engine stall was mistakenly detected.
The US company has now completed its software upgrade and now hopes that the patched-up planes will return to service as soon as possible, following a green light from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Antony Tarricone, a partner at the law firm that filed the suits, said “the case will focus, in part, on the intertwined relationship between the FAA and Boeing, which allows Boeing engineers to act as designated FAA safety inspectors during the certification process”.
US law firm Kreindler and Kreindler has a strong track record in commercial aviation litigation, having served as lead counsel in several high profile crash cases over the last six decades, including the Lockerbie bombing in 1988.
The lawsuit also alleges that “Boeing put its financial interests ahead of the safety of passengers and flight crews when it rushed the design, manufacture and certification of the 737-8 MAX”.
It adds that “it misrepresented to the public, the FAA and Boeing’s customers that the airplane was safe to fly, which Boeing shockingly continued to do even after the crash of the ET302”.
Members of the European Parliament have also questioned why the aircraft were allowed to keep flying after the second crash and in March, lawmakers warned that it could prove to be a “scandal to rival Dieselgate”.
On Saturday (18 May), Boeing acknowledged that it had to correct flaws in its MAX flight simulator software, which is used to train pilots.
“Boeing has made corrections to the 737 MAX simulator software and has provided additional information to device operators to ensure that the simulator experience is representative across different flight conditions,” it said in a statement.
The company has still not indicated when it first became aware of the problem, and whether it informed regulators.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]