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Lawsuits Begin, Families of Ethiopian Airlines Victims Sue Boeing

B767-3BG/ER | Ethiopian Airlines (Photo via Christian Junker)
B767-3BG/ER | Ethiopian Airlines (Photo via Christian Juncker)

Families of Ethiopian Airlines crash victims filed a lawsuit against US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing in a U.S. Federal Court, the first such lawsuit to follow the tragedy that claimed 157 lives in early March.

The Family of a 31-year-old Rwandan national named Jackson Musoni sued Chicago-based Boeing in a wrongful death case through the Chicago Federal Court system. They accused Boeing of designing its 737 MAX aircraft with a faulty automatic flight system.

They also accuse Boeing of failing to warn related parties about the faulty system, including airline companies and pilots who fly 737 MAX jetliners. The lawsuit could inspire other crash victims of the Ethiopian Airlines accident to sue the aircraft maker through courts across the U.S.

Preliminary analysis of black boxes from the Ethiopian Airlines crash suggests the cause of the crash is similar to that of the Lion Air flight JT610 accident that occurred October 2018 and killed around 189 people. Both incidents involved 737 MAX airplanes, prompting several countries to ground Boeing 737 MAX airplanes following the most recent crash.

Wreath-laying Ceremony for Fallen UN Personnel aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight UN Safety and Security Security officers bow their heads at the wreath-laying ceremony to honour fallen United Nations personnel aboard Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302. The plane crash of 10 March killed all 157 passengers and crew members onboard, of which 21 were confirmed to be UN staff.

Wreath-laying Ceremony for Fallen United Nations Personnel aboard Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET302 (Photo via UN)

It Is Not the First Lawsuit for Boeing

Families of victims from the Lion Air flight JT610 accident also sued Boeing in wrongful death cases. In the lawsuits, they claimed the Boeing 737 MAX installed a faulty flight control system and failed to inform pilots or airlines of its existence.

Deon Botha, the lawyer for many of the victims, said that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had issued new Emergency Guidelines for the 737 MAX in November 2018 and the crash could have been avoided had Boeing had informed crews of the issue and properly trained them.

Several American pilots had lodged complaints about the Boeing 737 MAX in recent months. According to a Politico report, the pilots found it difficult to control the plane during or just after takeoff when the autopilot automatically engaged.

Some of the reported incidents involved the aircraft’s anti-stall system, which is being investigated as a contributing factor to the crash of Lion Air JT 610. The system is called the MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) and is aimed at preventing planes from experiencing aerodynamic stall conditions.

Another pilot complained about Boeing’s insufficient handling of the situation writing, “It does nothing to address the systems issues” and noted that the flight manuals had yet to be updated with that information at that time.

A preliminary investigation of the Ethiopian Airlines crash showed that the doomed Boeing 737 MAX 8 had the MCAS activated before the plane nosedived.

Boeing Is Trying Its Best to Restore Faith in Flight

Boeing announced a series of modifications in the 737 MAX control system in the hopes of restoring faith in the airplane. The aircraft manufacturer will install a warning system as a standard on its 737 MAX fleet, which previously was as an optional safety feature.

Airline companies operating 737 MAX jetliners do not need to pay an extra cost for installing the new system. Boeing has also announced extra training for pilots to learn how the MCAS works.

“We mourn this loss of life and we’re going to do everything we can do to ensure that accidents like these never happen again. We’re working with customers and regulators around the world to restore faith in our industry and also to reaffirm our commitment to safety and to earning the trust of the flying public,” Boeing’s Vice President of Product Strategy and Development Mike Sinnett said, assuring people that the 737 MAX is safe.

The FAA is expected to deliver a short briefing to U.S. Congress members regarding supervising Boeing 737 MAX improvements and how officials plan to conduct safety trials in the future.

It may be a while before the 737 MAX can fly again. Officials in countries who grounded the 737 MAX will independently review Boeing’s changes before returning the plane to service.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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