In a US District Court filing from last week, Boeing accepted full responsibility for the crash that unexpectedly befell Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019. The filing goes so far as to absolve the pilots (and any other individuals aboard the flight) of responsibility. Boeing’s acceptance of liability opens the door for victims’ families to finally negotiate compensatory damages. Of course, given that this is a legal agreement with a very large company, there is a catch: victims’ families will be prohibited from seeking punitive damages from MAX supplier Rosemount Aerospace, as well as its parent company, Rockwell Collins.
Though the filing is a positive development, Boeing didn’t accept liability without a fight. The judge overseeing the Ethiopian Airlines case has been ordering Boeing for months to turn over documents relating to its Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), as it’s widely believed that an MCAS failure led to the crash. (It was also discovered shortly after the crash that Boeing never installed two potentially life-saving safety features on the 737 involved, as the company preferred to sell those features as add-ons for extra profit.) Boeing resisted sending over the requested documents, saying many of them were irrelevant and that pulling all of them would involve a hefty 350,000 engineering hours. The company’s excuses didn’t stand up in court, however, and Boeing eventually turned over the documents. Boeing accepted liability for the crash shortly afterward.
Boeing has understandably struggled with PR since the Ethiopian Airlines crash made global headlines. In a slew of internal emails leaked last year, employees told one another they wouldn’t put their families in Boeing MAX aircrafts, calling the development of the 737 MAX a “shitshow” and questioning whether the jet would meet Federal Aviation Administration regulations. To make matters worse, the Ethiopian Airlines crash was the second Boeing 737 MAX to fail within the span of six months—Lion Air Flight 610 had met the same unfortunate end the previous November, leading the entire world to wonder why on earth Boeing hadn’t parked its 737s the first time. The judge on the Ethiopian Airlines case is the same judge who continues to oversee negotiations related to the Lion Air crash.
For better or for worse, Boeing’s 737 MAX jets were tested for recertification in 2020 and are flying once again.
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