This week, Boeing chief Dennis Muilenburg announced a multi-million-dollar pledge to support the victims of back-to-back air disasters involving the aircraft manufacturer’s 737 Max planes. The funds will be released over several years and distributed among surviving family members, non-profit organizations in affected communities and local government agencies.
Just before the Independence Holiday festivities kicked off, Boeing quietly announced it would pledge $100 million to a fund set up to provide assistance to victims of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. Both crashes, which occurred within months of each other, involved Boeing 737 Max aircraft – nearly all which remain grounded after suspicion for the air disasters fell on aspects of the planes’ automated anti-stall technology.
“We at Boeing are sorry for the tragic loss of lives in both of these accidents and these lives lost will continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and on our minds for years to come,” Boeing Chairman/President/CEO Dennis Muilenburg said in a July 3rd statement announcing the initiative. “The families and loved ones of those on board have our deepest sympathies, and we hope this initial outreach can help bring them comfort. We know every person who steps aboard one of our airplanes places their trust in us. We are focused on re-earning that trust and confidence from our customers and the flying public in the months ahead.”
Although not an outright admission of responsibility, the establishment of a victims’ fund and Muilenburg’s notably conciliatory language marks a reversal from the aviation giant’s previously defiant stance. Until recently, Muilenburg had not only refused to attribute the 737 MAX safety issues to the suspect Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), but also insisted that the round-the-clock efforts to re-engineer the system were simply standard operating procedure.
“It’s not correct to attribute that to any single item,” the CEO told investors as recently as April. “We know there are some improvements we can make to the MCAS and we will make those improvements. But the reason this industry is safe is that we never stop on making safety improvements. We never claim we have reached the endpoint. We are continuously, across all of our airplane programs, improving safety every day. We always look for opportunities to improve.”
According to the company, the funds will be distributed over several years to “support education, hardship and living expenses for impacted families, community programs, and economic development in impacted communities.” Boeing will partner with local government agencies and non-profit organizations to help administrate the programs.
According to a Boeing spokesperson, the offer of assistance for victims will not affect any potential legal settlements that may result from the tragedies. Because the multi-million-dollar pledge is considered a wholly charitable donation, the U.S. aerospace conglomerate will also match employee donations to the fund through the end of the year.
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