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Corporate greed versus safety? Boeing faces flood of lawsuits

By Jehron Muhammad | Last updated: Apr 24, 2019 - 9:29:02 AM

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On the morning of March 10 an Ethiopian Airlines jetliner, in clear weather, crashed shortly after leaving Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, in route to Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya. This same model aircraft, used by Lion Air Flight 610, went down in Indonesia just four months earlier, killing all 189 passengers, including the air crew.


Ethiopian Airlines, the flag carrier of the East African nation, immediately grounded its remaining Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft “until further notice.”

A statement issued by the African carrier read: “Although we don’t yet know the cause of the accident, we had to decide to ground the particular fleet as extra safety precaution.”

Other airlines followed suit. On March 13 most of the Boeing 737 Max 8’s, with the addition of the European Union issuing a statement preventing the plane from using its air space, led to virtually all airlines grounding the aircraft, except U.S. domestic carriers.

U.S. president Donald Trump announced all Max 8 aircraft would be grounded until further notice on March 13.

Rumors that the crash of the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 would seriously damage Ethiopia’s premier airlines relationship with Boeing might be inevitable. But this has to be seen through the lens of the airline and manufacturer’s long history.

Ethiopia’s airline actually had its beginnings with a delegation visiting New York in 1945 armed with a request for American officials to assist it in launching a commercial airline for its domestic service.

Ethiopian Airlines, the country’s national carrier, was founded on December 30, 1945, by Emperor Haile Selassie. The airline commenced operation in 1946, with weekly service between Addis Ababa and Cairo with five Douglas DC-3 propeller-driven aircraft.

Beginning with assistance from now defunct, U.S.-based Trans World Airlines and “later Boeing’s technological support, Ethiopian Airlines has over the decades transformed into Africa’s largest and most successful airline,” reported Quartz Africa.


In 1962 with African liberation movements and the overthrow of colonial regimes in full effect, Ethiopia became the first African airline to secure and pilot the Boeing 720B. According to Quartz, the manufacturer was also critical in Ethiopia’s expansion strategy, “whether in the short to medium-range routes or non-stop long-distance flights to Europe (1963), China (1973), and the United States (1984). In 1977, the state carrier acquired a Boeing 720B simulator, making it autonomous from foreign airlines when it came to pilot training, and kick-starting the journey to establish a leading aviation academy.” 

Much of the Western press initially suggested that Ethiopian Airlines might have been complicit in the Boeing 737 Max 8 crash. Ethiopia strongly refuted what it said were baseless and factually inaccurate allegations. “All the allegations in the article are false defamations without any evidence, collected from unknown and unreliable sources to divert attention from the global grounding of the B-737 Max airplanes,” said Ethiopian officials.

With the airline’s entire 737 Max 8 fleet grounded and with over 4,000 orders on hold, and many beginning to cancel, Ethiopia is the least of Boeing’s problems. “But once the investigations are over and the dust has settled,” according to the Times, “the company may need to work hard to restore its image in a country (Ethiopia) where its reputation was once beyond challenge.” 

Add to Boeing’s woes “scandal is emerging.” It appears nearly 10 years ago, to stay competitive with its rival manufacturing competition Airbus, Boeing not only cut costs, but also possibly safety by adding to the 737 a nacelle (housing that holds engine and fuel) too large for the aircraft. The 737 is lower to the ground than the Airbus A320, and the new more fuel efficient engine has a larger diameter, which, unlike the Boeing aircraft, Airbus without modifications is able to accommodate.  

Putting ill-fitting engines on airlines to stay competitive, instead of building a new plane would be the height of corporate greed at the expense of safety and the thought has Boeing shareholders in an uproar. According to Reuters news service, an April 9 lawsuit “accused the company of defrauding shareholders by concealing safety deficiencies in its 737 Max planes before two fatal crashes led to their worldwide grounding.”

It appears to be the beginning of lawsuits to come. Dozens of families of Lion Air crash victims have sued Boeing and at least three lawsuits have been lodged over the Ethiopian Airline crash, including consumer activist Ralph Nader’s great niece.

On April 4, the family of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died in the crash sued Boeing and filed a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration. They filed the suit in federal court in Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered. It reads in part, “Blinded by its greed, Boeing haphazardly rushed the 737 Max 8 to market, with the knowledge and tacit approval of the United States Federal Aviation Administration … . Boeing’s decision to put profits over safety … and the regulators that enabled it, must be held accountable for their reckless actions.” Samya Stumo’s father, mother and brother spoke alongside their lawyer at a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

Aviation publications are beginning to reveal the “real” reasons behind the two airline crashes. reported what Boeing did “to get the engine under the 737 wing, engineers had to mount the engine nacelle higher and more forward on the plane. But moving the engine nacelle (and related change to the nose of the plane) changed the aerodynamics of the plane, such that the plane did not handle properly at a high angle of attack. That, in term, led to the creation of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). It fixed the angle-of attack problem in most situations, but it created new problems in other situations when it made it difficult for pilots to directly control the plane without being overridden by the MCAS.”

A possible reason for lessening of U.S. aviation safety standards, reported Forbes, is that since 2005 the FAA “shifted its approach for how it delegated authority outside the agency, creating a new program through which aircraft manufacturers like Boeing could choose their own employees to be the designees and help certify planes.” 

On April 4, according to CBS News, the Ethiopian government and Ethiopian Airlines briefed reporters on its initial findings. They said “preliminary report shows the doomed jet’s crew followed guidance provided by Boeing on how to fly the plane, including emergency procedures, but failed to regain control of the jet, putting the blame largely on the manufacturer.”

ABC News reported, “The Ethiopian Airlines crew commanding the Boeing 737 Max 8, which crashed … and killed all 157 people on board, followed all recommended procedures but couldn’t regain control of the doomed flight.”

The fact that Boeing executives are deliberately offering every explanation for the crash but the fact the 737’s engine nacelle changed the aerodynamics of the plane, and thus bringing into question a pilot’s ability to control it, is telling.

Before the crash, according to the British publication The Independent, “If you want to fly on the continent’s best airline, with the world’s most modern aircraft, then it has to be Ethiopian. During traumas from famine to revolution, the airline has managed to deliver those two elusive qualities: customer service and profit.”

If Ethiopian Airlines can overcome all manner of adversity, and still be Africa’s number one airline, why would a plane accident, which many carriers before it has suffered, cause much of the Western press to suggest otherwise?

Ethiopian Airline currently flies to over 50 African cities in what is the largest network by a national carrier. Currently it’s in discussions to assist at least a dozen African countries to establish and manage their carriers.

On top of that, the airline is in its seventh decade of operation and has become Africa’s leading carrier in terms of efficiency and operational success, reported

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