Boeing says it will contribute $100M to help families of 737 Max crash victims

Boeing on Wednesday said it would give $100 million US to organizations that help families affected by the deadly crashes of 737 Max planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Separately, Boeing faces potential payouts in lawsuits to Lion Air, Ethiopian Airlines crash victims

The tails of several of the dozens of grounded Boeing 737 Max airplanes line the edge of a parking area adjacent to Boeing Field in Seattle on June 27. The company said it will partner with local aid organizations in dispersing funds to families affected by deadly crashes. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

Boeing on Wednesday said it would give $100 million US to organizations to help families affected by the deadly crashes of the company's 737 MAX planes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The move is a step toward repairing the image of the world's largest plane maker, which has been severely dented by the crashes and its sometimes clumsy response to them. 

Boeing is being investigated by global regulators and U.S. lawmakers over the development of the 737 MAX and is the defendant in more than 100 lawsuits by the families of victims of a Lion Air crash in October and Ethiopian Airlines in March, which together killed 346 people.

The multi-year payout is independent of the lawsuits and would have no impact on litigation, a Boeing spokesperson said.

The $100 million is meant to help with education and living expenses and to spur economic development in affected communities, Boeing said, without specifying which authorities or organizations would receive the money. It also said it will match any employee donations through December.

"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 Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg.

This March, a Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashed in Ethiopia, killing all 157 people on board. 18 of them were Canadian, and several more were permanent residents. Now, six families from Canada who lost relatives are suing Boeing for alleged negligence in the Ethiopia Airlines crash. The CBC’s Susan Ormiston spoke to three of them, and brings us their reflections and lingering questions about what happened.

CEO posts video message

Following an initial response that public relations experts criticized as stilted and lawyer-driven, Boeing has been on a charm offensive, with executives at the Paris Air Show last month repeatedly apologizing for the loss of life. Muilenburg posted regular Twitter updates on efforts to safely return the 737 MAX to service. 

The jets were grounded worldwide in March and Boeing has been working on a fix for software that has been identified as a common link in both crashes. Boeing has been working on an upgrade for a stall-prevention system on the plane known as MCAS.

Regulators must approve the fix and new pilot training before the 737 MAX can fly again.

In a video posted on Twitter on Wednesday, Muilenburg said the company was continuing to work with regulators to address safety concerns, noting: "It's important we take the time necessary."

Last month, regulators identified a new problem that will delay commercial flight for the jets until October at the earliest.

Meanwhile, legal experts said a more apologetic tone by Boeing can appeal to families of victims and encourage them to settle, an approach similar to a "sorry works" strategy that hospitals use in malpractice lawsuits.

Boeing is in settlement talks over the Lion Air litigation and has separately offered to negotiate with families of Ethiopian Airlines victims, but some families have said they are not ready to settle, exposing the plane maker to a lengthy court battle.

The money might be better spent returning the remains of victims to their families, suggested Robert Clifford, a Chicago-based attorney representing several of the Ethiopian crash families.

"These families are distraught about the effort to get back their loved ones," Clifford said. "They want closure."