"I tell people I know I wouldn't be going on that plane": Dad of Penwortham aid worker killed in Boeing crash speaks out as aircraft prepares to fly again

The father of a Penwortham aid worker killed in a Boeing 737 Max crash said he is "very worried" about orders allow the plane to fly again.

Saturday, 21st November 2020, 7:00 am
Sam Pegram

This week, the American Government paved the way for the aircraft to fly again in the USA, and Europe is set to follow suit soon.

Airlines Tui and Ryanair have the aircraft in their fleet and the EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) are making moves to have it back in service by early next year.

The Boeing 737 Max has been grounded since March 2019, after two of the aircraft operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashed into the Java Sea and near Addis Ababa in March 2019.

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The crash scene

Investigations revealed that in both crashes, the pilots struggled with a system which had been installed on the 737 Max to prevent the plane from stalling if it climbed too quickly.

Now, Boeing has changed the software running the planes so that they take account of two sensors instead of one, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which reclassifies planes for flight in America. The anti-stall system will no longer kick in repeatedly, meaning a pilot should be able to take control again.

The manufacturer has also updated its training materials so that pilots are aware of the potential issue, and it will install as standard on all of its models a warning that will go off if a sensor fails.

Twenty-five-year-old Sam Pegram, a former Runshaw College student, was killed in the Ethopian Airlines crash.

His father Mark said: "I certainly tell people I know I wouldn't be going on a Max'.

He added: "We're not happy about the ongoing safety of the aircraft. It seems to me they (Boeing) have made changes to some aspects, but we believe there should be more.

"We we're kind of getting stonewalled by the FAA.

"We had a Zoom meeting with Steve Dickson, the chief of the FAA, so we did know about the announcement in advance, but we had a 30 minute slot with him, and 20 minutes of that was taken up with a presentation. In the other 10 minutes he answered two pre-prepared questions, and got two part-answered questions.

"We were told that other questions would be answered in due course, but that could be years."

The Pegram family, and the families of other crash victims, say they are not happy that enough has been done to on known problems with the aircraft, and they say Boeing and the FAA are not being transparent with information on their investigations.

Mr Pegram said he in Sam's crash a number of alarms were sounding at the same time in the cockpit and there was no clear message to the pilot, the trim wheel wasn't big enough to allow it to be manually operated, and an extra senor backup is needed to calculate whether the plane is rising too quickly.

He also questions why the 737 Max has been looked at as a modified version of the older 737 when it is significantly wider, taller and has a different flight control computer.

He said: "We feel it's been glossed over. We have no real faith or turst in the FAA or Boeing.

"All we want is justice for Sam and the other people killed, and for lessons to be learnt so this never happens again. Sadly, we're not getting the information that we want and there is no transparency."

Legal proceedings

Sam’s family as well as a number of other relatives of those who lost their lives on-board Ethiopian Airlines flight ET302 have instructed Irwin Mitchell’s specialist Aviation Law team to represent them. Working with colleagues in the US, the team is continuing with court proceedings against Boeing in Illinois, USA.

The families and their lawyers maintain that the aircraft is ‘aerodynamically unstable and does not comply with modern aircraft certification standards’ and remain concerned that the data supporting the assertion that the Max 8 is now safe to fly has not been released, leaving ‘unanswered questions’.

Clive Garner, one of the aviation law specialists at Irwin Mitchell representing the families involved, said: “It is deeply disappointing that the carefully considered and wholly reasonable requests of our clients have not been acted upon by the US authorities. We hope that EASA, the European Union Air Safety Agency will take a different and more considered approach when they finally decide about whether the aircraft is safe to return to service in Europe.”

What does the FAA say?

Steve Dickson, Administrator of the FAA, said: "I am 100 per cent comfortable with my family flying on them".

American Airlines has scheduled its first 737 Max commercial flight for December 29.

What do Boeing say?

"We will never forget the lives lost in the two tragic accidents that led to the decision to suspend operations," said David Calhoun, chief executive officer of The Boeing Company.

"These events and the lessons we have learned as a result have reshaped our company and further focused our attention on our core values of safety, quality and integrity."

"The FAA's directive is an important milestone," said Stan Deal, president and chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

"We will continue to work with regulators around the world and our customers to return the airplane back into service worldwide."

What is happening in the UK and Europe?

A UK Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson said: “The UK Civil Aviation Authority notes the decision by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to recertify the design of the Boeing 737 MAX.

"It is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that will validate this certification across the EU member states, as well as currently for the UK. We continue to work closely with EASA on all issues relating to the B737 Max and any EASA decision on a return to service.”

An EASA spokesman said: "The EASA has undertaken a thorough and independent review of the Boeing 737 MAX and worked intensely in the last 19-20 months to ensure that the proposed designed changes to the aircraft have been thoroughly reviewed so that the aircraft will be truly safe when it flies again.

"Human factors – and the training for pilots – have been an important part of the analysis. We have worked collaboratively but independently with the FAA and Boeing throughout. Our work is now also in its final stages".

EASA will first publish a Proposed Airworthiness Directive, laying out the conditions for the return to service. This will go out for public comment and will be published on its website before the end of November.

There will then be a 28-day public consultation period. During this time anyone who wishes to can make comments.

The Agency will then need to look at and respond to those comments. Only after that will the final Airworthiness Directive be published. It is thought this will be around the end of the year or early 2021.

This publication of the final Airworthiness Directive will constitute the ungrounding for Europe from the EASA side. Until this happens, the plane cannot operate in Europe.

However, this does not mean all 737 MAXs in Europe will be in the air the next day. Airlines will have to ensure that their pilots have received the prescribed training and that maintenance has been carried out to ensure the plane is safe to fly after the long grounding.

In some EU states, individual grounding notices will also need to be lifted. As such, the EASA cannot say when the first commercial flight of the newly re-certified MAX will take place in Europe.

Which airlines have Boeing 737 Max planes?

It is known that Tui and Ryanair have the aircraft in their fleets.

A Tui spokesman said: "The FAA approval is an important milestone for a safe re-entry-into-service of the Boeing 737 MAX. Nevertheless, the EASA consultation approval won’t take place before January 2021. We’ll await the outcome and decide at a later stage when the MAX will be used again.”

They added: "Before we reintroduce the 737 MAX into our fleet we will be looking at the best way to inform customers and is our intention to do so; we currently only highlight when customers will fly on a 787 Dreamliner"

Ryanair has been contacted for a comment.