Connecticut-based consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader lost his grand-niece in the recent crash of a Boeing 737 Max jet in Ethiopia. Now he’s gunning for the planemaker and federal safety regulators who allowed the aircraft to be certified.
Nader said his niece, Samya Stumo, was working for a nonprofit in Africa on health issues at the time of her death.
“She was an extraordinary person,” he told Connecticut Public Radio’s Morning Edition. “Just 24 years old with a master’s out of the University of Copenhagen in global health. She was a leader, she had compassion, intellectual rigor. And we’ll never know how many lives she could have saved.”
Nader believes plane maker Boeing has potentially opened itself to criminal prosecution over its handling of safety on the 737 Max, which has now seen two fatal crashes within six months -- the first in Indonesia last October.
He said the way in which the Federal Aviation Administration has delegated safety certifications to Boeing itself, means there’s no effective oversight.
“That’s not regulation, that’s surrender,” said Nader. “And in this case, deregulation meant death. President Trump kept pushing the budget to be reduced for the FAA, the staff to be reduced for the FAA. So people were left without protection. They think when they fly, the FAA is their guardian angel -- they’d better think twice about that.”
He accuses Boeing of rushing the design of the 737 Max in an effort to compete with European maker Airbus. And he said, when Boeing realized it had a stability issue with the plane, it installed insufficient safety sensors to compensate for flaws.
He wants the FAA to decertify the plane and Boeing to halt manufacture of the aircraft.
Nader is so far unimpressed with congressional inquiries into the crashes and the safety issues underlying them. Officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department faced questioning Wednesday on Capitol Hill before a Senate subcommittee, over their regulation of aircraft safety.
At the hearing, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts accused FAA acting administrator Daniel Elwell of allowing Boeing to sell critical safety features as optional extras to airlines.
And Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said the FAA’s practice of allowing aircraft makers like Boeing to self-certify the safety of their aircraft has led to fatal errors.
“The fact is that the FAA decided to do safety on the cheap,which is neither cheap nor safe -- and put the fox in charge of the henhouse,” he told the committee. “In its rush to produce that aircraft, critical safety features were disregarded.”
Blumenthal has pledged to bring forward legislation to implement a criminal penalty within the Federal Aviation Act.