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Boeing May Suspend 737 MAX, But Consumer Advocate Ralph Nader Wants a Total Recall of Deadly Planes

StoryDecember 16, 2019
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Executives at Boeing are reportedly considering ending production of the troubled 737 MAX passenger jet, which was grounded worldwide after two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed all 346 people on board. Last week, former Boeing manager Edward Pierson testified to the House Transportation Committee that he tried to warn executives about safety concerns four months before the first deadly crash, as well as before the second crash, but his warnings were ignored. We continue our conversation with Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and three-time presidential candidate, whose great-niece Samya Stumo died on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to developments in the safety of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane. Last week, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing on the safety of the airplane, which has been grounded worldwide after two crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia that killed all 346 people on board. This is former Boeing manager Edward Pierson, who testified he tried to warn executives four months before the first deadly crash.

EDWARD PIERSON: I believe production problems at the Renton factory may have contributed to these two tragic crashes. But I don’t believe our regulators are paying enough attention to that factory, and I’m calling for further investigation. I formally warned Boeing leadership in writing on multiple occasions, specifically once before the Lion Air crash and again before the Ethiopian Airlines crash, about potential airplane risk due to the unstable operating environment within the factory. Those warnings were ignored. … I requested a one-on-one meeting with the general manager on July 18th and repeated my recommendation to shut down the factory for a brief period of time. When I mentioned that I’ve seen operations in the military shut down for lesser safety concerns, I will never forget his response, which was “The military isn’t a profit-making organization.”

AMY GOODMAN: That was former Boeing manager Ed Pierson testifying last week before Congress. Samya Stumo, great-niece of our guest Ralph Nader, died on the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March. We want to turn right now to her mother, to Nadia Milleron, who is the niece of Ralph Nader, Samya’s mother. They have filed a lawsuit against Boeing and a claim against the Federal Aviation Administration.

NADIA MILLERON: This is not an accident. This is something that could have been prevented. … And as somebody who’s lost the dearest person in my life, you know, I want her death not to be in vain. I don’t want anybody else to die.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, this is a personal tragedy for you, but also global tragedy. And because you’ve been a consumer advocate for so long, you have made these global corporate catastrophes very personal for everyone. And again, our condolences to your whole family on the loss of Samya, a beautiful, young, brilliant activist, who was going to Africa to work on issues there, when she died in that flight. Talk about the latest on Boeing.

RALPH NADER: Well, the latest is more and more disclosures, more and more whistleblowers. You have John Barnett, the quality control inspector for the plant in South Carolina, the [787 Dreamliner], Boeing, saying essentially what Edward Pierson said. We have mounting evidence, brought forth by the House Transportation Committee, that the FAA knew a lot more than it made out publicly, that it became an abdicator, under pressure from Congress of past years, instead of a regulator.

And the thunderbolt that just came out a few days ago was that in December 2018, after the Indonesian crash, there was a risk assessment by the FAA that these planes — and they have orders for 5,000 of these dangerous planes, the 737 MAX — would have 15 crashes over the 40-year life of the plane, taking 2,900 lives. And that was not released by the FAA, month after month of cover-up.

The two people who are responsible for the FAA’s abdication and giving Boeing the power of self-certification in its factories, Elwell and Ali Bahrami, are still there in the FAA. Steve Dickson is the new FAA administrator. They’re still there. And the board of directors for Boeing, that presided over these trails of criminal negligence and the failure to attend to aerodynamic stability, they’re still there. And the CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, paid millions and millions of dollars a year, he’s still there. So, until they are replaced, we cannot see light at the end of the tunnel.

And the light at the end of the tunnel is not trying to use a hoked-up, glitch-ridden software in the cockpit — MCAS, it’s called. A software fix for hardware defect? You’ve got to recall the planes, and Boeing has got to develop engineering adjustments and engineering changes so that plane is not prone to stall, which is, of course, what led to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia, killing of 346 innocent people. That’s where it’s got to be now. And Senator Wicker has got to get his Senate Oversight Committee active, along with the activity by Congressman Peter DeFazio.

AMY GOODMAN: This latest news that executives at Boeing are reportedly considering ending production of the 737 MAX passenger jet, announcement might come this afternoon?

RALPH NADER: Yes. Well, that was actually expected, because they’ve got these jets they’ve been producing in recent months, 42 a month, over one a day. These are jets that sell for 130 million bucks each. They’ve got them parked and stored, and they’re running out of space. The airlines are furious with the way Boeing has maneuvered this whole thing. They’re filing lawsuits to recover their financial losses. The labor unions for the airlines, they’re doing the same thing. So this is just another step toward what I think has to be the recall of these planes and the engineering adjustments, so that the basic problem — not a software fix, the basic problem — is dealt with.

AMY GOODMAN: You also sent a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging Canada to do an independent review of the 737 MAX. Why is this so important in Canada right now, Ralph?

RALPH NADER: Because when all the other countries grounded the MAX in March of this year, there were two left: Canada and the U.S. And U.S. was stubbornly saying, from the CEO of Boeing to the FAA to President Trump, “Don’t worry. It’s a safe plane.” Yeah, two crashes in a few months of a brand-new plane, yeah, it’s a safe plane. And Canada decided to ground them, and that clinched the necessity for the U.S. So, if Canada ungrounds the plane along with the FAA, it’s going to be a bad scene. If Canada holds firm, independent, with Transport Canada, the U.S. will have to think twice about ungrounding the plane, because it’s hard to fly in North America without flying over Canadian airspace.

So I wrote to Prime Minister Trudeau, urging him to retain an independent evaluation. Full certification, full simulator training for the pilots are the two demands that the families of the victims are making before Congress, before the FAA and before the media in the United States. So, we are reliant on Canada, if the FAA and Donald Trump are going to crumble. I mean, Trump is not looking good on this issue. He’s very big-business-oriented. He’s running a corrupt government of corporatism, militarism and nepotism. You’re not going to rely on him. So, that’s why I appealed to Canada.

And people who want to get involved here, we’ve got a consumer boycott of the 737 MAX, should it ever be ungrounded. Go to FlyersRights.org. That’s run by Mr. Hudson, who lost his daughter in the Lockerbie explosion over Scotland. And it’s a wonderful consumer group. People should join it. And they have all kinds of up-to-date material on the 737 MAX. I mean, tens of millions of you are going to fly this monster, unless you get involved, unless you put the pressure on members of Congress, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Boeing executives should be forced to fly in 737 MAXes, akin to air marshals, as an extra safety measure?

RALPH NADER: Well, they are going to go up on these flights, but, you know, they’re very careful flights. Everybody’s on alert. They’re not flying all over the world with pilots, say, that are less trained because they don’t have military experience the way many of our pilots have, or different kinds of weather patterns or other kinds of things. So, they will go up and say, “See?” Muilenburg will go up: “See? I went up.” The head of the FAA: “See? I went up.” You’re not dealing with that kind of situation. The FAA itself reduced the probability of a crash to one out of a million flights instead of the usual standard of one out of 10 million flights. These are crashes due to the design and construction of the plane, not crashes due to pilot error.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, what you’re calling for in your family’s lawsuit?

RALPH NADER: I didn’t hear. Sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: What you’re calling for in your family’s lawsuit? Very quickly.

RALPH NADER: We’re calling for a full compensation for the losses. We’re calling for Boeing to contribute to establishing nonprofit institutions dedicated to airline safety. We’re calling for full disclosure with depositions. The lawyers who do these depositions get a lot more information under oath by Boeing officials and ex-Boeing people than the Congress has managed to. So, these will all begin to reveal their impact in the spring. The depositions will probably start in the spring.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a different issue. Last Wednesday, 180 House Democrats joined almost all House Republicans in voting in favor of a massive three-quarters of a trillion-dollar military spending bill for the Pentagon, one of the largest military spending bills in U.S. history. In the last 30 seconds we have, your response?

RALPH NADER: So, this is the trade-off the Democratic Party has been making for years. With every billion dollars to the Defense Department, they get some money for social safety net. So, they just gave Boeing — excuse me, they just gave the Department of Defense another $22 billion, which would have renovated 22,000 elementary schools in this country, in return for paid family leave for federal employees. What kind of trade-off is that? There should be paid family leave without increasing the huge waste and corruption of the military budget, which is devouring infrastructure needs in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph, we have to leave it there. I want to thank you so much for being with us, Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His latest book, written with Mark Green, Fake President: Decoding Trump’s Gaslighting, Corruption, and General B.S.

And that does it for our show. A very Happy Birthday to Renée Feltz and to my brother Steve!

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Meet Nadia Milleron: Her Daughter Was Killed in 2019 Boeing Crash, Now She’s Running for Congress

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