Published On: October 4th, 2021By Categories: Feature, Flarepath4.1 min read

Sometimes there is more said in the lack of a response than in the words or comments received from officials and top management.

Ethiopian Airlines and the recent settlement reached with OEM Boeing after the Max 737 crisis is a case in point.

Backing up a bit – 157 passengers and crew lost their lives in March 2019 in the second fatal crash of a Max 737 Boeing manufactured aircraft. The first happened in Indonesia and involved Lion Air.

Soon after that Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde GebreMariam gave an interview to an American tv broadcaster NCB news where he categorically stated the airline would be the last to put the Max back into service.

2019 rolled into 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic hit and like most African Airlines, Ethiopian suffered losses. Not as bad as some as the airline quickly turned to cargo to keep cash flowing.

In fact, just recently IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East Kamil Alawadhi congratulated the airline on its above average performance.

He stated passenger traffic to, from and within the country in June 2021 was 30% less than in June 2019 – a significant improvement on the 47% drop for January 2021 compared to January 2019.

Back to the crash and the Ethiopian aircraft accident investigators got busy. In March 2020 they issued a 138-page interim report. By the time of going press – they still had not issued a final one.

Boeing also got busy fixing the Maneuvring Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS – a critical part of the reason for the crash. The manufacturer underwent a rigorous investigation about why and how the system failed – made their recommendations to fix it and everything was hunky dory.

The jet was cleared to return to service in late December and currently about 300 are flying globally.

Then in January this year news emerged that Ethiopian Airlines was preparing to accept a settlement offer from Boeing – against the advice of their own US attorneys – especially as the amount would fall “grossly short” of what it could get if the case came before a US jury.

This and the fact Boeing had already accepted responsibility for criminal fraud during the certification process by regulators.

A Seattle Times article written by reporter Dominc Gates stated that what Boeing was offering – estimated to be between (US) $500 to $600 million was well short of the airline’s losses. The deal was alleged to include concessions on future airplane sales including waiver costs on maintenance and discounts on future deliveries.

Lawyers advising ET stated that they could have received around (US) $1.8 billion had they filed a claim in the US. The airline’s claim is separate from the victims’ families.

All was quiet on the African continent. Then Ethiopian Airlines issued a statement that the Max would be flying over their country’s skies by the end of the year and then quickly after that – that a MoU had been signed with Boeing aimed at making Addis Ababa ‘Africa’s aviation hub’.

Eyebrows were raised as it seemed the relationship between the two was warming up.

In the face of no formal announcement World Airnews sent the airline a formal set of questions to the CEO. We asked him about his reasons for the apparent about face? Now he was quoted as saying the Max would fly again by January next year? All of this when the country’s Aircraft Accident Investigators had not issued their final report?

We asked whether Mr GebreMariam had had sight of the report and was it a foregone conclusion that the country’s aviation authorities will approve the jets return to service?

We asked if the families had been informed or consulted as it seemed a bit strange and out of context. We just wanted to find out a bit more.

Needless to say we never received a proper reply at the time of going to press. His team did acknowledge receipt of such and promised to follow through and despite further phone calls and emails – our efforts came to nought.

Instead, the Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates once again released another report confirming that the airline had accepted a settlement from Boeing and the aircraft would be flying across the country’s skies by January next year.

Sometimes it is up to each individual to read between the lines, to make up your own mind when there is no response as to what happened and why the matter got settled?

In ‘normal’ times the report will contain recommended remedial actions to be taken to avoid a recurrence.  This would lead the Civil Aviation Authority to publish their own directives (often in the form of Airworthiness Directives or “ADs”) to give muscle to the investigator’s recommendations.

On a lighter note: congratulations to our World Airnews/Madikwe Hills/Federal Air competition we ran – Garth Lurch and Julia Baker who enjoyed a two night stay at this fantastic private game reserve – flights courtesy charter airline Federal Air. You can’t get better than that!!

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