The former inspector general for the U.S. Transportation Department has filed a lawsuit against Boeing Co. alleging the aerospace giant knew its 737 Max jet was unsafe but concealed the plane’s dangerous design flaws from airlines and the public.
Mary Schiavo, the U.S. DOT’s inspector general from 1990 to 1996, filed the lawsuit in federal court in Charleston on behalf of the estate of George Thugge, a passenger who was killed in the March 10 crash of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8. Thugge was a resident of Sweden and his estate administrator is a Charleston resident.
The lawsuit draws parallels to a pair of 737 crashes in the early 1990s and argues the Federal Aviation Administration long ago relinquished most of its oversight of Boeing, allowing the manufacturer to inspect and certify its own planes.
Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said the company won’t comment on the lawsuit directly.
“As the investigations continue, Boeing is cooperating fully with the investigating authorities,” he said.The company has repeatedly said there are no design flaws with the 737 Max and the planes are safe.
“We’re committed to providing the FAA and global regulators all the information they need, and to getting it right,” Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a statement last week. “We’re making clear and steady progress and are confident that the 737 Max with updated … software will be one of the safest airplanes ever to fly.”
Boeing builds its wide-body 787 Dreamliner planes in North Charleston. The single-aisle 737 Max jet that was involved in the Ethiopian Airlines crash and a fatal Lion Air accident in October is built in Renton, Wash.
Schiavo, in the lawsuit, said the FAA has continuously allowed Boeing to build new 737 models — including the Max version — under the same certificate that was used for the original 737 in 1967.
That has allowed Boeing to “race the new models through design, engineering, development and production by ‘cutting and pasting’ prior models and prior documentation, knowing Boeing would be permitted by the FAA to self-certify,” the lawsuit states.The shortcut, according to the lawsuit, was designed to help Boeing bring its Max planes to market to compete with French plane maker Airbus, which was developing a new single-aisle jet.
Schiavo, now a lawyer with the Motley Rice firm in Mount Pleasant, said Boeing’s reaction to the Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air crashes mirrors the company’s actions following a pair of 737 accidents in 1991 and 1994. Those earlier crashes involved 737s that nose-dived to the ground after pilots experienced sudden and unexpected rudder movements.
Unlike the redundancies built into most plane systems, the rudders at the time were a “single point of failure risk” without a built-in backup system. Investigations into the most recent crashes point to a software problem that forced the nose down on 737 Max planes after a single angle-of-attack indicator gave faulty readings.
Boeing “deployed a common and continuous scheme after both series of crashes to conceal deadly faults in the aircraft that caused the planes, without pilot input or ability to overcome the aircraft, to dive into the ground killing all aboard,” the lawsuit states.