Men who lost family members in Max crash seek safety changes

Politics
Paul Njoroge

FILE – In this April 29, 2019, file photo, Paul Njoroge, who lost his wife and three young children in the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines’ Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, speaks at a news conference in Chicago. Njoroge believes Boeing should scrap the 737 Max, and he wants the company’s top executives to resign and face criminal charges for not grounding the plane after a deadly accident last October. On Wednesday, July 17, Njoroge will be the first relative of any of the 346 passengers who died in those crashes to testify before Congress. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)

Two men who lost family members in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max airliner in Ethiopia called on Congress to change Federal Aviation Administration procedures that let company employees perform safety inspections on planes as they are being built.

Paul Njoroge, who lost three children, his wife and mother-in-law in the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Max, accused Boeing of hiding what he considers a flaw in the plane’s design. He also accused the company of wrongly shifting blame from the plane to foreign pilots, which prevented the Max from being grounded after a first accident off the coast of Indonesia last October.

“That position killed my family and 152 others” on the second plane, said Njoroge, an investment adviser in Toronto who is suing Boeing.

Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya also died on the Ethiopian flight, told lawmakers they should end the FAA’s policy of designating certain employees of aircraft manufacturers to do safety inspections. He said the FAA should return to a system in which the inspectors were paid by the FAA but reported to both the agency and the company.

With that structure, Stumo said, “the safety culture could put a stop to things if something looked wrong.”

Wednesday was the first time the House aviation subcommittee heard from victims’ relatives.

Mike Perrone, president of the union that represents about 11,000 FAA workers including safety inspectors, also addressed the subcommittee and said company employees now do more than 90% of the FAA’s aircraft-certification work. He called for a halt in expanding the use of company employees who are deputized by the FAA until the Max review is done.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the highest-ranking Republican on the subcommittee, assured the passengers’ relatives that the process to “unground” the Max will not resemble the process under which the plane was originally approved.

The victims’ families have been pushing for pilots to be retrained on flight simulators to practice new flight-control software on the Boeing plane that can point the plane’s nose down to avoid an aerodynamic stall. That software activated in both crashes, and pilots were unable to overcome it.

Boeing argues that computer-based training is adequate, in part because it is changing the software to make it more reliable and less powerful.

The Max has been grounded worldwide since shortly after the Ethiopian crash and it is unclear when the plane will be allowed to fly again.

Separately, Boeing said Wednesday it has hired mediation attorney Kenneth Feinberg to run a fund that will distribute $50 million in aid to families of all 346 passengers who died in the Ethiopia and Indonesia accidents.

Feinberg has administered funds set up to help victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and other disasters and product litigation.

The fund will amount to half of Boeing’s recent $100 million pledge to help families and communities affected by the two crashes. Boeing said the aid will be separate from payments resulting from lawsuits over the accidents.

The Justice Department and two congressional committees are investigating Boeing’s development and marketing of the Max.

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This story has been corrected to attribute a comment about changing the process of approving the Max to return to the air to Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., instead of Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo.

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Krisher reported from Detroit while Koenig reported from Dallas.

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