On the eve of a vote by the Senate Commerce Committee on a bipartisan aviation safety bill, family members of victims killed in the two MAX crashes sent a letter to members of the committee urging them to hold Boeing accountable. The families want lawmakers to enact legislation preventing planemakers like Boeing from hiding behind the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) approval of the MAX as a defense tactic for knowingly placing a dangerously defective plane into commercial service.
The families explained that “[a]ccountability is the best way to encourage the design and manufacture of safe airplanes — so this does not happen again.” Further, they said, “No amount of regulation should shield Boeing and other manufacturers from responsibility when airplanes crash and kill innocent people.”
Beasley Allen’s Mike Andrews agreed saying, “Boeing should not be able to stand by a flawed FAA approval as a defense.” Andrews represents families of victims of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET 302, one of the two deadly MAX crashes.
Flight 302 crashed just five months after Lion Air flight 610. Numerous investigations show that the aircraft’s new flight control system, the MCAS, was at the center of a series of similar events and factors that contributed to the crashes. Evidence shows that Boeing was not forthcoming with FAA regulators about the MCAS or the risks to safety that accompanied the new, powerful automated system. As scrutiny over the aircraft’s approval grew, more information came to light showing the limited authority the FAA had over approving new aircraft.
The bill that was to be the subject of the vote today was introduced this summer. The sponsors intended it to reduce the influence of large, powerful lobbying interests such as Boeing and to return some of the FAA’s oversight authority. In the years leading up to the two tragedies, every effort was made to reduce corporate oversight and governance. Just weeks before the Lion Air flight 610 crash in October 2018, Congress yielded to the demands of aircraft manufacturers, primarily Boeing, and relaxed FAA regulations when it approved the FAA’s Reauthorization Act. It stripped nearly all authority over the certification process from the agency and placed it in the hands of those companies that were to be regulated.
The committee’s vote on the bill was halted just before it was to take place. Committee leadership explained that the members still needed to work out their differences over certain aspects of the legislation but expressed a desire to continue working toward a better and safer oversight process.
“It is a flawed process that the plane manufacturers desired and paid for and it is this same process that they now want to hide behind,” Andrews said.
The “grossly insufficient oversight by the FAA” was also a key theme in a report released Wednesday by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The report detailed the House committee’s findings from its investigation of the MAX crashes. It stated, “The FAA’s certification review of Boeing’s 737 MAX was grossly insufficient and that the FAA failed in its duty to identify key safety problems and to ensure that they were adequately addressed during the certification process.” It also pointed to Boeing’s lack of transparency and influence over the FAA’s oversight structure as contributing to the “horrific culmination” of events that led to the loss of the 346 lives on board the two fatal flights.
Despite the findings, Michael Teal, the chief engineer on Boeing’s 737 Max program, and Keith Leverkuhn, the vice president in overall charge of the Max development program, continue defending the MAX’s design as well as the approval and certification processes. Both testified to congressional investigators they knew nothing about the problems with the MCAS until learning about the problems in the news after the crashes. However, Teal told the investigators “there’s no reason to believe that those processes were flawed at that time.” Similarly, Leverkuhn testified that he “challenge[d] the suggestion that the development [of the MAX] was a failure.”
Former Boeing employees are not as supportive.
Ed Pierson, a whistleblower who once worked as a supervisor in the company’s Renton, Washington, plant, maintains that Boeing put undue pressure on staff to produce. This undue pressure he says contributed to critical mistakes. He hopes that the Senate legislation will go further in addressing undue pressure, Boeing’s influence over the FAA, and, ultimately, improve the production quality in Boeing’s factories. Additionally, former Boeing engineer Peter Lemme criticized Boeing’s decision to revamp the 737 saying, “It would have been better to build an all-new narrowbody design.”
Boeing is hopeful the MAX will resume commercial service next month. The FAA published its proposed airworthiness directive regarding the necessary changes and improvements for the MAX in August, moving the aircraft one step closer to resuming commercial service. Critics of the MAX and families of MAX crash victims are urging more caution by regulators as they fight for justice for their loved ones who perished in tragedies they say never should have happened. They don’t want to see others suffer from similar losses.
Mike focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation. In addition to his Ethiopian Airlines crash clients, Mike has represented people seriously injured in a variety of aviation crashes, and the families of those killed in both civilian and military airplane crashes and helicopter crashes.