Boeing has said it will offer $100 million to the families and communities of those who died aboard the two 737 Max passenger jets that crashed earlier this year. This “initial outreach” will likely only be a small part of the company’s penance for the mistakes that led to the deaths of 346 people.
In a statement, the company said it expected the money to “address family and community needs,” and “support education, hardship and living expenses.”
“These lives lost will continue to weigh heavily on our hearts and on our minds for years to come. The families and loved ones of those on board have our deepest sympathies, and we hope this initial outreach can help bring them comfort,” said CEO and president Dennis Muilenburg in the statement.
Although the full reports on these crashes are still pending, Muilenburg earlier this year accepted the blame, acknowledging that “it is apparent that in both flights, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, known as MCAS, activated in response to erroneous angle of attack information.”
Compounding this was a lack of training for pilots on how to handle this sudden takeover of the plane’s controls, though the pilots reportedly did all they could to counteract the effects of the faulty MCAS system. Since the accidents, Boeing has been dogged by allegations that it cut corners on safety, training and regulations. It has been suggested that shoddy code may have been largely responsible for the crashes.
This initial payout is voluntary; it is highly unusual for an airplane maker to pay such a sum to the victims of a crash ahead of any lawsuits. Boeing, Airbus and other companies involved in passenger flight have certainly in the past paid damages, directly or via insurance or some other means, but that was generally after a lawsuit forced them to. Sometimes a company will approach families with ready money to prevent them from filing a lawsuit, but that’s not often publicized.
And lawsuits are certainly underway already, with dozens of families bringing suits for each crash. The amounts these could bring are very difficult to predict, but given the loss of life and that the flaws that led to it can be traced directly to mistakes by Boeing, the company could be on the hook for hundreds of millions more.
The lawsuits and other court cases around these crashes will be closely watched, as it is not often that a tragedy of this scale is caused — even in part — by software.