Comair claiming a total loss of over $83 million in Boeing deal.
Comair, the defunct South African airline, has sued Boeing for fraud over its agreement to buy eight 737 MAX planes and is seeking damages of at least $83 million.
Comair was a South African airline that operated scheduled flights on domestic routes as a British Airways subsidiary and as a low-cost carrier under its own Kulula.com. Due to combined factors of lack of funding and travel restrictions imposed after the pandemic, Comair was forced into bankruptcy and eventually closed its doors on June 9, 2022, after nearly 80 years of service.
The South African airline took Boeing to a US district court in Seattle, claiming that the aircraft manufacturer committed fraud over its failure to disclose problems with a critical flight control system tied to the two fatal 737 MAX crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines, which killed 346 people. “Boeing prioritized profits over safety and led with a plan of deception,” says Comair.
Details of Comair’s lawsuit against Boeing
The former South African airline is seeking damages above $83 million, which it suffered due to Boeing’s ‘wrongful’ conduct. Comair alleges the following:
- In 2010, Boeing was under pressure from its largest competitor, Airbus. This pressure led being to take shortcuts, make misrepresentations and conceal information to bring the 737 MAX to market quickly.
- One of the 737 MAX’s central flaws was its new engines. They were larger and could not easily fit under the 737 frame’s low wings. To obtain adequate ground clearance, Boeing moved the engines up and forward. The new mount location caused the aircraft’s nose to pitch up abnormally.
- Rather than make the necessary but more costly aerodynamic changes needed to prevent the pitch-up problem, Boeing tried to combat it with new software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which automatically applied downward stabilizer trim.
- MCAS did not work safely, and Boeing knew it. A Boeing test pilot reported it took more than 10 seconds to respond to an uncommanded MCAS activation, which he described as a “catastrophic” condition. Boeing also eliminated one of two sensors that told MCAS when to activate, leaving it prone to failure. Boeing deleted the reference to MCAS from the Flight Crew Operations Manual but forgot to remove it from the abbreviations table.
- Rather than rectifying known problems, Boeing concealed them from customers (including Comair) and the FAA in a rush to market and maximize profits.
- With the existence of the entire MCAS system concealed, Boeing avoided any requirement that pilots be trained on MCAS. Boeing represented the pilot skill needed to pilot the existing 737 NG aircraft.
Photo: Tom Boon | Simple Flying
As the latest party to take Boeing to court following the crashes and issues surrounding the existence of MCAS, Comair included details specific to its deal with Boeing. The details are as follows:
- In reliance on Boeing’s misrepresentations and concealed facts, on September 19, 2013, Comair entered into a Purchase Agreement with Boeing for the sale of eight 737 MAX aircraft for a total aircraft base price of more than $98 million. Delivery of Comair’s first 737 MAX will take place in February 2019.
- On October 28, 2018, a 737 MAX (Lion Air Flight 610) crashed 11 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia, killing all 189 passengers and crew onboard. MCAS engaged to force the aircraft’s nose sharply down. The crew fought to counteract it but were eventually overcome by MCAS, and the aircraft dove into the sea.
- On March 10, 2019, another 737 MAX (Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302) crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew onboard. Like Lion Air flight 610, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed when MCAS persistently engaged, forcing the aircraft toward the ground.
- Shortly thereafter, all of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft were grounded worldwide.
- In September 2020, a US House of Representatives committee investigated the 737 MAX. It concluded there was a “disturbing pattern of technical miscalculations and troubling management misjudgment by Boeing” and a “culture of concealment” at Boeing, among other things.
- Among ‘several unmistakable facts’ uncovered, the House of Representatives found that Boeing withheld crucial information from the FAA and its customers.
- Comair relied on Boeing’s misrepresentations and concealment of material facts in deciding to purchase eight 737 MAX aircraft.
- Comair paid Boeing more than $45 million in advanced payments on seven 737 MAX aircraft and full payment on the one 737 MAX it received. Boeing has refused to return the advanced deposits on the seven aircraft it never delivered to Comair. Comair suffered additional damages as a result of the grounding of its 737 MAX for a total loss of more than $83 million.
Photo: Nadezda Murmakova | Shutterstock
Ethiopian Airlines vs. Boeing
Last month, the American aircraft manufacturer was in court fighting a long-standing battle with Ethiopian Airlines. In a final report, the Ethiopian government solely blamed for the crash suffered four years ago, saying that repetitive and uncommanded airplane nose-down inputs from the 737 triggered by a single faulty sensor put the plane in an unrecoverable dive six minutes after takeoff.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the French Bureau of Equiry and Analysis (BEA) disputed some of the airline’s claims. They recognized Boeing’s role in the crashes but identified pilot error as a critical contributing factor. They also disputed Ethiopia’s contention that the sensor that triggered the crash likely failed due to product quality defects, stating that the flight likely encountered a bird strike.
Despite the ongoing battles between Boeing, Airlines, and crash victims’ families, there are currently over 580 737 MAX aircraft in operation worldwide. At least 37 airlines are operating one variant of the MAX, with Ethiopian Airlines having a fleet of nine B737-700NG, 11 B737 MAX, and 17 B737-800.
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Source: TimesLive, Bloomberg