Men who lost family members in Max crash seek safety changes

Two men who lost family members in the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max jet called on legislators to change Federal Aviation Administration procedures that let company employees perform safety inspections on aircraft as they're being built.

Paul Njoroge of Toronto, who lost three children, his wife and mother-in-law in the March crash, accused Boeing of wrongful conduct during a hearing held Wednesday by the Aviation Subcommittee of the U.S. House Transportation Committee.

He said the FAA's process to approve new aircraft must be strengthened, and he accused Boeing of shifting blame from its faulty flight control software to the pilots in the Ethiopia crash and the October crash of a Lion Air 737 Max in Indonesia. A total of 346 people died in both crashes.

By blaming Lion Air pilots, Boeing delayed the grounding of the Max, he said. "That position killed my family and 152 others" on the Ethiopian jet, Njoroge said.

Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya also died on the Ethiopian Airlines flight, told legislators that the committee should end the FAA's policy of allowing designated aircraft manufacturer employees to do safety inspections of airplanes. He says the FAA should return to a system where the inspectors are paid by the FAA but report jointly to the agency and the company.

With that structure "the safety culture could put a stop to things if something looked wrong," he said.

Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., the highest-ranking Republican on the subcommittee, told Njoroge that the process to "unground" the Max will not resemble the process under which the plane was originally approved.

Njoroge, a financial adviser, also said the FAA's leadership should change so safety engineers are in charge, and called on Congress to increase its budget.

Pilots, Njoroge said, should be trained on simulators to handle the Max's flight control software that can point the plane's nose down to avoid an aerodynamic stall.

Boeing is proposing computer training rather than simulators as reworks the software and it tries to return the plane to the air. The Max has been grounded worldwide since shortly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash and it's unclear when they will be allowed to fly again.

The company has repeatedly apologized in public to families of the passengers.

Because the size and placement of the plane's engines raised the risk of an aerodynamic stall when Boeing designed the Max, the company devised flight-control software called MCAS. But preliminary reports indicate that the software pushed the nose of the plane down in both crashes, and Boeing is now working on changes to make MCAS more reliable and easier to control.

Boeing did not tell pilots about MCAS until after the Oct. 29 crash of a Lion Air Max.

Njoroge's family died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash shortly after takeoff from Addis Abbaba. A preliminary report on the crash found that the crew struggled to control the plane as MCAS continued to point the nose down. After six minutes in the air, the plane slammed into the ground.

Njoroge told the subcommittee he thinks about those six minutes often, and how his wife and mother-in-law had to know the plane was going down. "They had to somehow comfort the children during those final moments, knowing they would all be lost," he said.

Also during the hearing, Mike Perrone, president of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, a union representing about 11,000 FAA inspectors and other workers, said company employee "designees" are being granted more authority by the FAA to conduct inspections. He said company employees now do over 90% of the FAA's aircraft certification activities, and he called for a halt in the expansion until the Max review is done.

"Risk is continually being introduced into the system that may not manifest itself for years to come," he said.


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. Krisher reported from Detroit while Koenig reported from Dallas.

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