April 19, 2019 | Kendall Creighton The Implications For Boeing FlyersRights.org’s President Paul Hudson, interviewed by Corporate Crime Reporter last week, assessed the threats Boeing is facing after the two deadly crashes within five months by its popular 737 MAX jets. Over the past 10 years in the United States, there have been 90 million commercial airline flights and only a handful of fatalities. There is a sense that commercial air travel in the United States is relatively safe. Hudson: I wouldn’t disagree with that, it is relatively safe. You can make an argument that it is so much safer than auto transportation that we shouldn’t worry about air crashes at all. But there is a psychological factor. The public has very little tolerance for mass disaster – whether it is the Titanic, which was supposed to be unsinkable, the Hindenburg, which ended not only the dirigible but the company behind it as well as Germany’s dominance in that field, to the de Havilland Comet, which was the first jetliner in the 1950s. After the Comet had three crashes in one year, sales were doomed even though they fixed the problem. Commercial aircraft manufacturing in the U.K. never recovered. These Boeing crashes could have a serious potential effect on an entire industry and even on the entire U.S. economy. A recent Wall Street Journal article projects a $1.7 billion settlement for both the Indonesia and Ethiopia crashes. How do these Boeing cases differ from other airline crashes? Hudson: Boeing has to worry about punitive damages and potential criminal liability if it is found that they willfully hid these dangers and falsified the safety tests and certifications. The most recent example is the falsification of emissions tests in the case of Volkswagen and a number of other automobile companies. Those didn’t involve fatalities, but there were high fines and damages, not to mention the reputational injury. There is also the liability from the airlines who bought these planes. There are some 350 of them out there. If the model has to be scrapped, each plane is worth $100 million. But the most serious potential for the company is if people refuse to fly on these planes. Then the airlines are not going to buy them. And China, Russia, Brazil and Airbus are all coming out with commercial airliners in the next few years that will compete heavily with Boeing. They could lose their duopoly position and perhaps worse. When you say perhaps worse – does this threaten the viability of the company? Hudson: I don’t know enough to say that. I’ve read that the 737 Max 8 alone represents about half of their current revenues and growth. The two driving revenue sources for Boeing are the 737 MAX 8 and the 787 Dreamliner. Is this MAX 8 fixable? Hudson: The short answer is – we don’t know at this time. It is clearly more than a little software glitch. It may involve extensive software changes. It may involve recalling the planes and changing some hardware. It may involve redesign – meaning scrapping the plane – because it’s inherently unstable. Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg admitted last week that “it’s apparent that in both flights, the MCAS activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.” What are the implications of that admission? Hudson: It seems that they are admitting fault. How far it goes – whether it goes to gross negligence or beyond that, to some kind of intentional wrongdoing, that remains to be seen. How do you see the litigation playing out? Hudson: I’m not an expert in product liability. There are technical defenses. And Boeing has successfully defended other cases on technical legal grounds – lack of privity – things like that. Typically, the victims of air crashes sue the airline. They may sue equipment manufacturers and others. For international air crashes, there is a cap on damages. It’s now about $139,000 on a semi-no-fault basis per passenger. In order to break that cap, you have to prove intentional misconduct. It’s an international equivalent of gross negligence or worse. That has only been done a couple of times in commercial aviation history. It was done in the Pan Am 103 case. Ethiopian Airlines is going to take the position that it is entirely Boeing’s fault, that their people did all the right things, that Boeing knew something was wrong, they not only didn’t fix it, but they mismanaged any training for the pilots. That could have implications for litigation. But in general, the amount of money available on a negligence basis is going to be covered by insurance – whether it is for Boeing or for the airlines. But when you get into gross negligence or intentional misconduct, that kind of liability tends not to be covered by insurance. What are the implications on the criminal side? Hudson: People can be arrested. They could be jailed under a negligent homicide type charge. If the crash had occurred in the United States, that could potentially play out. This occurred in Ethiopia. I’m not an Ethiopian lawyer and I don’t know what their law is on this. There have been such cases where companies have been charged with criminal negligence. In June 2010, Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide, was indicted and convicted in connection with the Bhopal disaster. The U.S. didn’t extradite him. But Ethiopia could try to indict Boeing officials. There is a federal manslaughter statute in the United States. BP pled guilty in 2013 to 11 counts of manslaughter in connection with the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico. Arguably, in the Boeing case, the crime was committed in Chicago, where Boeing is headquartered. Hudson : The actual act would have occurred in the United States. The victims would be in these two crashes overseas. I’m not a criminal lawyer or a corporate crime lawyer so I’m not going to opine on that question. FlyersRights’ Proposals to Reform FAA 1. Restrict waivers or exemptions of safety regs by limiting duration to no more than 1-2 years without congressional approval. Make applications transparent and subject to public comment. Currently FAA grants about one per day and this has shredded the aviation safety net so actual safety is less than regs indicate. This reform would cut the number of applications to those that are really needed and don’t compromise safety. 2. End all industry Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committees that currently violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) protecting against secretive, back-door lobbying of agencies by requiring public reps on all federal advisory committees. 3. End self-regulation of new aircraft certification by requiring that there be an independent review of key safety systems by experts not working for the regulated party or the FAA. 4. Require that delegated FAA certification and inspection officials be chosen by the FAA, not the regulated party, and that such officials take an oath of office and enjoy civil service and whistleblower protections. Delegated Officers should be required to sign approvals under penalty of perjury as to truthfulness and lack of undue pressure from or conflict of interest with regulated party. FAA oversight official should do the same and there need to be prompt audits of suspicious activity. 5. Ensure FAA hires more experts as consultants and regular employees to lessen dependence on regulated-party employees. 6. Expand use of FAA Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC) to include review of safety regs and policies that are requested by three or more members, instead of only items that FAA requests. 7. Expand ARAC membership to include representatives of safety manufacturers, academic air safety, and the medical profession with expertise in occupational and other medical hazards of air travel. Current membership is totally dominated by industry reps. 8. Restrict grandfathering of exemptions from safety regs for existing aircraft designs to a reasonable time limit, no more than 5 years. The non-enforcement of helicopter crashworthy standards for over 20 years has resulted in about 50 avoidable deaths annually. The existing policy also retards new aircraft design improvements because it’s cheaper to keep adapting old designs. 9. Pay members of ARAC and working groups for travel and per diem to attend meetings. The present pay-to-play policy excludes most nonprofit and non-industry reps from participation. This is permitted but not required under FACA. 10. Publicly disclose all decisions by FAA that grant safety waivers or Unaccountable Powerbrokers Coming To D.C. ….Read more Call For Comments What are your comments on what some see as the latest whitewash by Boeing? Send to Paul@FlyersRights.org or click ‘reply’ to this newsletter.