The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) is set to lift a flight ban on the Boeing 737 MAX this week after reviewing submissions by industry experts but victim’s families have dubbed the decision as “premature.”

But the move has angered relatives of some of the 346 crash victims, who say the lifting of the ban is premature. The MAX has been grounded in Europe for 22 months following investigations into crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The aircraft’s software system, MCAS was a contributing factor in both crashes.

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) lifted the ban in November, a move which was followed by Brazil and Canada. Investigations into the two crashes faulted the FAA for oversights in their initial approval of the Boeing 737 MAX. The approval failed to identify the plane’s flight control software MCAS’ capability of ordering repeated dives based on inaccurate data readings from a single sensor. The automated system repeatedly forced the nose of the aircraft downwards, when the pilots were trying to gain height, pushing both the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines’ planes into unrecoverable dives.

EASA, which represents 31 mainly EU nations, had given provisional approval to lift the ban in November and has considered input from 38 commenters. EASA’s Executive Director Patrick Ky said the information received included “whistleblower reports that we thoroughly analysed and took into account.”

Victims group says move to reinstate MAX is “premature”

EASA has undertaken its own independent review of all of the aircraft’s critical systems beyond the redesign of the plane’s MCAS software. It also issued guidelines for design changes and pilot training which must be implemented. Under a 2011 agreement, EASA and the FAA had previously agreed to base evaluations of aircraft designed in each other’s territories on tests and compliance decisions carried out by the other agency. “Of course given those tragedies we have stopped this trend and we will increase our level of involvement,” Ky said, referring to EASA approval of future US designs.

But France-based victims’ group has called the move to reinstate the MAX “premature, inappropriate and even dangerous”. A hearing of the Transport Committee of the European Parliament was convened yesterday following EASA’s announcement that recertification could happen this week.

Virginie Fricaudet, lost her 38-year-old brother Xavier in the Ethiopia Airlines crash on March 10, 2019. Fricaudet is president of the European victims’ organisation “Flight ET 302 Solidarity and Justice” based in France. She said many issues surrounding the aircraft still remain unanswered, even in light of the possible ungrounding.

In a letter to the European Parliament, Virginie Fricaudet, posed dozens of questions on behalf of the victims’ organisation that need to be addressed – ranging from the transparency of EASA to its independence in making an anticipated decision to unground the MAX and, in particular, whether any guarantees of safety of the Boeing 737 MAX are sufficient for future air safety.

Solidarity and Justice said: “In our opinion, the re-certification of the Boeing 737 Max by EASA is premature, inappropriate and even dangerous, as we have demonstrated in a technical note written with the support of aeronautical engineers.”

No criminal case against Boeing employees or executives

The letter to the European Parliament also addressed the agreement that Boeing entered into with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) on January 8 which terminated the criminal case against the airline manufacturer’s employees and executives and imposed a $243.6 million fine. Fricaudet quoted from the DOJ settlement agreement which stated that “Boeing’s employees chose the path of profit over candor by concealing material information from the FAA concerning the operation of its 737 aircraft and engaging in an effort to cover up their deception.”

Robert A Clifford, founder of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago and lead counsel of the litigation against Boeing in federal district court in Chicago represents 72 families in the crash of the Ethiopian flight, which killed all 157 people on board. He said: “These families are desperately trying to prevent aviation regulators like EASA from again approving a defective Boeing 737MAX aircraft with single points of failure that can cause a catastrophic crash and more deaths.”

He added: “They found no solace in the DOJ’s action, and instead more questions were raised by the settlement from which they and the flying public were kept in the dark. The families of the crash victims believe that they are the subject of a crime and that crime victim protections afforded under US and international law have been violated by the DOJ and Boeing.”

A former senior manager at Boeing’s 737 plant in Seattle has also raised new concerns over the safety of the company’s 737 Max.

PIerson: Boeing factory was “dysfunctional”

In a new report, Ed Pierson, who was a witness during congressional hearings on the MAX disasters, claimed that further investigation of electrical issues and production quality problems at the 737 factory was badly needed. He claims regulators and investigators have ignored factors, which he believes, may have played a direct role in the accidents.

Pierson testified that during 2018, the factory was in a “chaotic” and “dysfunctional” state and claimed staff struggled under pressure from managers to build new planes as quickly as possible. Boeing has said his claims were unfounded.

He also told the hearing that he told his bosses he was hesitant about taking his own family on a Boeing plane. Pierson said he was worried that issues had been overlooked in the rush to get the 737 Max back in the air. Drawing on material from the official investigations, Pierson’s report, which includes material from the official investigations, claims that both of the crashed aircraft suffered production defects, almost from the moment they entered service including intermittent flight control system problems and electrical anomalies that occurred in the days and weeks before the accidents.

He claims these may have been symptoms of flaws in the aircraft’s complex wiring systems, which could have contributed to the erroneous deployment of MCAS. In the case of the Lion Air plane, a faulty sensor was replaced with another part which was not properly calibrated. Pierson said these signs all “point back to where these airplanes were produced, the 737 factory”.

Pierson insisted that the possibility of production defects playing a role in the accidents had not been addressed by regulators and claims this could lead to further tragedies, involving the MAX or even a previous version of the 737.

“Questions must be answered” – Sullenberger

Pierson’s concerns have been backed by aviation safety campaigner Captain Chesley Sullenberger.  Sullenberger is known as “Sully”, one of the pilots who safely ditched an Airbus plane in the Hudson river off Manhattan in 2009 after it lost engine power following a bird strike.

Sullenberger believes modifications are needed to warning systems aboard the plane, which were carried over from a previous version of the 737 and were “not up to modern standards”.

He added: “There are many critically important unanswered questions that must be answered. Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must finally become more transparent, and begin to provide information and data, so that independent experts can determine the worthiness of the work that’s been done.”

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