LONDON – The former South African airline Comair Limited filed a lawsuit in federal court against The Boeing Company claiming fraud and breach of contract over the purchase of eight 737 MAX aircraft.
Comair is seeking damages in excess of $83 million, which it claims it suffered as a result of Boeing’s wrongful conduct.
The South African airline previously conducted scheduled domestic services as a subsidiary of British Airways, and ceased operations in June last year.
The lawsuit allegations
The lawsuit details claims of Boeing’s wrongful conduct and makes the following allegations, according to a statement issued by Comair Ltd.
Comair firstly allege that Boeing was under pressure from its largest competitor, Airbus. According to the plaintiff this pressure “led Boeing 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 airline statement then turns its attention to the MCAS system saying that:
“Rather than make the necessary, but more costly, aerodynamic changes needed to prevent the pitch-up problem, Boeing tried to combat it with a new software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”), which automatically applied downward stabilizer trim.”
Comair alleges that MCAS did not work safely, citing a Boeing test pilot report that it took more than 10 seconds to respond to an uncommanded MCAS activation, which he described as a “catastrophic” condition.
Rather than rectify known problems the airline claims that Boeing concealed them from customers (including Comair) and the FAA in a rush to market and to maximize profits.
With the concealment of such problems, Comair turns to the pilot training aspect stating:
“Boeing represented that the pilot skill needed to fly the 737 MAX was “interchangeable” with the training and skill needed to pilot the existing 737 NG aircraft.”
“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 took 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 on board. 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 Air Flight 302) crashed six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, killing all 157 passengers and crew on board. Like Lion Air Flight 610, Ethiopian Air 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.
Comair summarised the case saying that they “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 aircraft 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,” the statement concludes.