Family of Penwortham aid worker killed in Boeing crash object to decision to allow aircraft to fly again

Sam Pegram from PenworthamSam Pegram from Penwortham
Sam Pegram from Penwortham
Lawyers representing the family of Sam Pegram, who was killed in a Boeing 737 Max crash have spoken of their ‘significant concerns’ after the American government paved the way for the aircraft to fly again in the US .

A total of 346 passengers and crew were killed when two Boeing 737 Max aircraft operated by Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashed into the Java Sea and near Addis Ababa in March 2019.

The aircraft has been grounded ever since.

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.

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Wreckage of the plane Sam was travelling inWreckage of the plane Sam was travelling in
Wreckage of the plane Sam was travelling in

The system was designed to push down the nose of the plane when it rose too high. That system depended on a sensor on the outside of the plane, but a faulty sensor caused the planes to dip their noses repeatedly, eventually forcing the planes into a dive.

Former Penwortham Priory Academy pupil Sam Pegram, 25, who worked for the Norwegian Refugee Council, was on his way to Nairobi when the Boeing 737 Max 8 he was travelling on came down shortly after take-off.

>>>Read about Sam's story here and here

His family have been fighting ever since to get answers from Boeing and maintain that the aircraft is ‘aerodynamically unstable and does not comply with modern aircraft certification standards’.

A memorial near the crash siteA memorial near the crash site
A memorial near the crash site

But now, after 20 months of investigation and research, the FAA, which controls which planes are allowed to fly in the USA, has agreed to rescind an ungrounding order.

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The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has also confirmed to the Lancashire Post that the aircraft could also be flying again in the UK and Europe from early next year.

Tui and Ryanair are known to have several of the aircraft in their fleets.

Boeing has changed the software running the planes so that they take account of two sensors instead of one, according to the FAA. 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.

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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.

Now 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 of those killed filed objections with the US Department of Transportation in relation to the potential re-certification, arguing the aircraft should not return to the skies before a number of fundamental concerns were addressed.

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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: “The families we represent have been living with the loss of their loved ones in the most tragic of circumstances.

"All of the passengers and crew who lost their lives did so due to the design and introduction of an aircraft which was unfit to fly. Despite the grounding and the FAA’s announcement today very significant concerns remain about the FAA’s decision to allow the Boeing Max to fly again in the US.

“The FAA requires a number of steps to be undertaken, including retro-fitting adaptations to the aircraft and additional pilot training before the aircraft will be allowed to fly in the US again. It is highly likely that these steps will improve the aircraft’s safety, but we, our clients and a number of independent experts do not consider that these steps are adequate.

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“The root of the problem is that the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will remain aerodynamically unstable. It will still have a tendency for the nose to pitch during certain manoeuvres and in turn this could still lead to an increased risk of its engines stalling.

"Along with a number of specific requests, including the FAA’s disclosure of key data to the families and their legal representatives, we and our clients have called for a number of further important steps to be taken including the commissioning of a new and fully independent review body to assess the safety of the 737 MAX before any decision is made to return it to service.

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 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.

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"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.

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"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.

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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.

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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.

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