Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, whose 24-year-old niece died in the crash of Ethiopian Airways flight 302, is calling for a consumer boycott of Boeing 737 Max aircraft, saying that the airplanes are fundamentally flawed and cannot be made airworthy again by a software upgrade.
Mr. Nader said he and other family members had dinner with Samya Stumo just hours before she was killed March 10 when the Ethiopian Airlines plane she was on hit the ground at 600 mph. Ms. Stumo was headed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Nairobi, Kenya, on her first post-graduation assignment for a health care systems development agency.
Mr. Nader said his great-niece was “a rising star turned into dust” and called her death a big loss.
“She was the kind of leader that we hoped to get from our young generation in our world and wanted to change the way global health was deployed,” Mr. Nader told CBC’s As It Happens in an interview.
Boeing last week announced that it had completed a software upgrade to correct problems with the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), a software program that piggybacks the Boeing 737 Max’s flight-control system and automatically adjusts the plane’s speed and angle to prevent stalls.
Boeing added the MCAS system, which operated inconspicuously in the background, to counteract the tendency of the nose of the 737 Max jets to point up – a problem created when Boeing installed heavier engines in a higher position on the wings.
In designing the 737 Max, Boeing was racing to compete with Airbus, the European manufacturer whose more fuel-efficient A320neo had already hit the market. Airbus’ new A320 required virtually no additional pilot training – a huge selling point for commercial airlines. Likewise, Boeing said its 737 Max planes would operate like the old 737s with little additional training needed, yet the new planes had a physical design flaw that gave it different flight characteristics – namely, the tendency for the nose to drift upward. Rather than redesign the plane aerodynamically, Boeing created the MCAS software to correct the deficiency.
Authorities investigating the crashes of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 and Lion Air flight 610 found that the MCAS misfired in both cases, receiving erroneous data from a faulty exterior angle-of-attack (AOA) sensor. MCAS processed that data and sent the planes into unneeded anti-stall maneuvers that repeatedly forced the aircraft’s nose downward.
It’s for these reasons that Mr. Nader, who co-authored the book Collision Course: The Truth about Airline Safety, believes the Boeing 737 Max is flawed and should be recalled.
“It’s not a software patch. It’s a fundamental design of aerodynamic instability in terms of making that plane prone to stall, instead of prone-proof. That’s where the focus has to be,” Mr. Nader told As It Happens.
Mr. Nader said his niece Samya and “156 other innocent people (died) because Boeing executives wouldn’t let the engineers do their job and they cut those tragic deadly corners on the 737 MAX 8.”
Samya Stumo’s family are the first to sue Boeing over the Ethiopian Airlines crash in the U.S. They accuse the aircraft manufacturer of putting “profits over safety” in its push to get the 737 Max on the market.
Ms. Stumo’s mother, Nadia Milleron, wrote a column for CNN about her daughter’s death that is highly critical of Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which is under scrutiny for certifying the flawed planes. Her opinion echoes those of her uncle, Mr. Nader.
“As far back as 2017, [Boeing CEO Dennis] Muilenburg was praising the FAA’s ‘streamlined’ certification process, which originally helped get the Max finished as fast as possible,” she wrote. “This should trouble anyone who flies. Are these planes being adequately tested? Will the Max be rushed back into service before it is safe?”
Ms. Milleron believes that the 737 Max should remain grounded until all relevant investigations are finished, including two inquiries by the U.S. government.
“We want to make sure people are warned about unsafe airplanes. And we want the FAA to keep planes grounded until every investigation is finished,” Ms. Milleron wrote. “It is potentially catastrophic for Boeing to approve planes after a mere software fix.”
Beasley Allen lawyer Mike Andrews, who focuses much of his practice on aviation litigation, is investigating both deadly 737 Max plane crashes. He is representing families of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash.