A wrongful death case was filed against Boeing on the same day that a preliminary investigation into last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash revealed damning details about the aircraft manufacturer and raised new questions about whether it gave pilots proper instructions for navigating new software. The findings were released Thursday in Ethiopia, based on the analysis of a team of 18 investigators, less than a month after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash killed all 157 people on board. The report found similarities in the technical issues experienced by pilots on both the Ethiopian Airlines flight and October’s Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which also crashed just minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board. Both flights were on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. On Thursday, the first American lawsuit related to the devastating crash was filed against Boeing on behalf of the family of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died on the flight. Samya was the grandniece of Ralph Nader, the longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic and former presidential candidate. We speak with Nader about his calls to ground all 737 MAX 8 aircraft and the legacy of his grandniece. We also speak with Paul Hudson, the president of Flyers Rights, the largest nonprofit airline passenger rights organization in the U.S.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, as we look at the wrongful death case against Boeing, after a preliminary investigation into last month’s Ethiopian Airlines crash has revealed damning details about the aircraft manufacturer and raised new questions about whether it gave pilots proper instructions for navigating new software. These findings were released Thursday in Ethiopia based on the analysis of a team of 18 investigators. They come less than a month after the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash, which killed all 157 people on board. The report found similarities in the technical issues experienced by pilots on both the Ethiopian Airlines flight and October’s Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610, which also crashed just minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board. Both flights were on a Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Under enormous public pressure, the FAA grounded 737 MAX aircraft while Boeing works on fixes to the plane’s software
On Thursday, the first American wrongful death lawsuit was filed relating to the Ethiopian Airlines crash. It was filed against Boeing on behalf of the family of 24-year-old Samya Stumo, who died on the flight. Samya was the grandniece of Ralph Nader.
Well, Ralph Nader joins us now on the telephone, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate, author of many books, including Collision Course: The Truth About Airline Safety. Ralph Nader wrote an open letter to Boeing titled “Passengers First, Ground the 737 MAX 8 Now!”
Ralph, again, our condolences to you and your whole family, a number of members of which we just heard—Samya’s mother and father and brother Adnaan. Can you talk about the significance of this first American wrongful death lawsuit and what is being alleged?
RALPH NADER: Well, out of Samya’s death, and all the other people on that plane, have got to come big changes. People watching this program or listening to you, Amy, they think that this is going to happen to someone else. If we don’t stop this 737 MAX from ever flying again—there’s no fix for engineered instability and the prone-to-stall problem of the 737 MAX—5,000 of these planes will be sold all over the country and all over the world. So, there will be millions of passengers in these planes, with a plane that should not be allowed to fly.
And this lawsuit, filed yesterday under the law of torts, is designed to pursue the truth, to get all the information out of Boeing, out of the FAA. There will be a lawsuit probably filed against the FAA under the Federal Tort Claims Act, so that the whole process is reformed, so that the FAA is not a wholesale delegator, pushed by members of Congress and the White House year after year to delegate the inspection, to delegate the self-regulation to Boeing, instead of regulating it. And that has to be completely changed.
There’s a lot of culpability here. Boeing’s homicide, Boeing’s criminal negligence is now well documented. And there will be more whistleblowers and more information coming out from all quarters. But the Congress bears a very serious responsibility. It’s been stopping aviation safety reform. It’s been supporting White House cuts in the budget of the FAA. It’s been supporting the repression of engineering integrity in the FAA, not to mention Boeing. Three hundred and thirty members of Congress take campaign contributions from Boeing. And even worse, just about every member of Congress takes freebies from the airlines, all kinds of upgrades and fee waivers that are not accorded other ordinary mortals.
So, out of these tragedies in Indonesia and Ethiopia may come a restructuring of aviation safety. No aircraft manufacturer, not to mention Boeing, should ever be given two free disasters, that are preventable by established, long-known engineering safety practices. And that’s what we’re all pursuing to try to make something come out of these tragedies that will save the lives of people in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want you to respond to Boeing’s statement in response to the preliminary investigation report of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. And, you know, it also came after the first wrongful death lawsuit, your family’s lawsuit, against Boeing. This is the CEO Dennis Muilenburg, releasing this video yesterday along with the company’s statement.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: We at Boeing are sorry for the lives lost in the recent 737 MAX accidents. …
It’s apparent that, in both flights, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle-of-attack information. The history of our industry shows most accidents are caused by a chain of events. This again is the case here. And we know we can break one of those chain links in these two accidents. As pilots have told us, erroneous activation of the MCAS function can add to what is already a high-workload environment. It’s our responsibility to eliminate this risk. We own it, and we know how to do it.
From the days immediately following the Lion Air accident, we’ve had teams of our top engineers and technical experts working tirelessly, in collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and our customers, to finalize and implement a software update that will ensure accidents like that of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 never happen again.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg in a video released yesterday, after the lawsuit and after the preliminary findings. Ralph Nader, your response?
RALPH NADER: Well, it’s pretty close to admission of fault. I don’t see how they’re going to defend the civil lawsuits. They’re facing a criminal probe from the Justice Department and the FBI, with an active grand jury. And as Flyers Rights director Paul Hudson, who you’ll be hearing from, has pointed out again and again, deregulation means death. It means the repudiation of a structure of aviation safety that people expected to be able to trust. So this is an amazing early admission by the manufacturer, before even the first deposition is ordered.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Ralph, we are about to go to Paul Hudson, but before we go, your family has filed suit against Boeing and a complaint against the FAA. The significance of Boeing and the FAA?
RALPH NADER: Well, they’re both at fault. And as Paul Hudson will point out, there has to be legislation in Congress. Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut is about to put a bill in to re-empower and bring back the delegation, to Boeing, back into the FAA and make it a strong regulator. He’s also going to propose criminal penalties. Believe it or not, the FAA statute doesn’t have criminal penalties for willful and knowing violation. And I think we’ll see a lot of change.
But don’t take anything for granted. Unless flyers organize, unless they join groups like FlyersRights.org, a lot of these probes, congressional investigations, Department of Transportation investigations, Justice Department investigations can be pulled back due to political pressure by Boeing and its allies in Washington. What cannot be pulled back are the civil lawsuits that will increasingly be filed against Boeing and other defendants.
AMY GOODMAN: We are bringing in Paul Hudson into this conversation, president of Flyers Rights, the largest nonprofit airline passenger rights organization in the U.S., operating a hotline for passengers at 877-FLYERS6, publishes a weekly newsletter, maintains a staff office in D.C. for advocacy for airline passengers’ rights, also served on the FAA’s Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee since 1993.
Paul, talk about the significance of what has taken place. And I’d like to have you start by responding, once again, to Dennis Muilenburg, but this is a different statement. It was a phone call news conference he had last year on the telephone—in 2017. In it, he was praising the FAA under the Trump administration for its efforts to deregulate and, quote, “streamline” the certification process. He even specifically mentions the MAX aircraft. He made the comments on a conference call with investors and the media.
DENNIS MUILENBURG: Yes. Just [to comment on that, one], the overall focus on deregulation and simplifying processes is one that we’ve been a strong proponent for. And the administration has been very engaged, across government agencies and with industry, to find ideas and ways and opportunities to simplify and streamline. Things like FAA certification processes is one place that we’re seeing some solid progress. That’s helping us more efficiently work through certification on some of our new model aircraft, such as the MAX, as it’s going through flight test and entering into service. So we’re already seeing some benefits there of some of the work that’s being done with the FAA.
AMY GOODMAN: “We’re already seeing benefits there,” this streamlining with the FAA. If you can talk, Paul Hudson, about what Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg is admitting as he praises the FAA under the Trump administration in 2017?
PAUL HUDSON: Well, you know, Amy, there’s an old expression in law: “Beware of what you ask for. You may get it.” Boeing asked for it. They got it. Essentially, full delegation and self-regulation.
We went from the FAA, basically, not just being the oversight, but being the certifier. We now have a situation—not only with the 737, but it was pretty similar to that previously with the 787 Dreamliner in 2013, that was grounded with battery fires. You have a situation where the manufacturer designs the systems; the manufacturer’s employees test the systems; the manufacturer’s employees, chosen by the manufacturer, in this case Boeing, certifies the system; and the FAA is basically a bystander.
So, while safety was never deregulated with economics in the Airline Deregulation Act of '78, it's become really a paper thing now, with the FAA not only relying on the manufacturer for pretty much everything, but not having its own people that are competent, and not consulting with outside experts that are needed to really vet these systems.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, even when the FAA was announcing they were grounding the MAX planes, under enormous popular pressure, President Trump continued to praise Muilenburg and has talked about Boeing some 200 times in the last few years in public, praising them, and has not criticized them at all. Paul Hudson, what should Trump be doing right now?
PAUL HUDSON: Well, he should be meeting with the people that represent airline passengers and the victims of these air crashes, number one. My daughter died in Pan Am 103. And after that, President Bush met with families. And that put in motion things that eventually greatly improved the security for aviation. If the president can take phone calls from the Boeing CEO, if he can meet over and over again with airline executives, he can certainly do, after this disaster—which, by the way, not only affects Boeing and the families, it affects, really, the United States commercial aviation industry.
Unless trust is restored, and restored quickly, people are not going to want to fly on those planes. We have lots of people telling us, “How do I avoid that bad plane?” Even if they put it back on service, people are not going to trust the FAA. They’re not going to trust Boeing anymore. They need to have outside experts. And it may be that the planes need to be recalled, that are in service. It may be that the whole thing needs to be scrapped. But whatever is done, it has to be done quickly, and it has to be done transparently.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Ralph Nader, Samya Stumo’s great-uncle. Ralph, you are famous, over the decades, for calling for recalls of cars. Are you demanding the same thing right now, but, in this case, planes?
RALPH NADER: Yes, they should recall the 300-plus planes that they’ve sold to these airlines, domestic and foreign. They should never allow that plane to fly again. They should simply sell the 737 with improved amenities, discount the planes to compete with Airbus. And people should know that the Airbus engineers in the 320neo were allowed to do their job. And in Boeing, they were not allowed to do their job. And that’s all going to come out.
But we’ve got to escalate corporate crime and violence to the level that we do, under our law, to individuals. You know, members of Congress returned contributions from Harvey Weinstein for his assault on women. And now they should return all their contributions from Boeing for the corporate homicide of Boeing in preventable deaths of 346 people from Indonesia to Ethiopia. We have to begin recognizing that deaths and injuries and disease and property damage are massively greater from preventable corporate crime, fraud and violence than the street crime version, bad as that is.
And I hope some of that will come out of this horrible tragedy that involved my wonderful grandniece Samya Stumo, leadership, compassion, intellectual rigor written all over her. She would have saved a lot of lives in her 50 years of work in Africa and South America. And Boeing snuffed it out, along with 345 other innocent people.
AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader, I want to thank you so much. And again, our condolences on the death of your niece. Ralph Nader, longtime consumer advocate, corporate critic, former presidential candidate. His grandniece Samya Stumo died in Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. And, Paul Hudson, thanks so much for joining us, president of Flyers Rights.
When we come back, we’re going to continue to look at Boeing on a global scale, this time around the military, as the Trump administration pushes NATO countries to increase military spending, often to the benefit of companies like Boeing. Stay with us.