American Eagle Flight 4184’s crash in a rainy soybean field in Roselawn, Indiana, on Halloween night, Oct. 31, 1994, was the culmination of years of ATR turboprop airplane icing incidents and deadly crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation into Flight 4184 and all the prior ATR icing incidents and crashes revealed an airplane manufacturer determined to outsell the competition via numerous aggressive design and marketing efforts, including a highly-leveraged, marginally stable lateral control system.
That control system had a history of instability from its very first test flight in Toulouse, France, and severe icing conditions had a history of exposing that instability on revenue passenger flights for several years prior to the fatal Flight 4184.
Aerospatiale, a French aerospace engineering and manufacturing firm behind the ATR, Airbus and other European aerospace/aeronautical ventures, determined that certain types of severe icing was causing ATR turboprop airplanes to lose lateral control. The engineers proposed various fixes and changes to the pilot manuals and training curriculum to properly educate and train the pilots for such potentially catastrophic events, but ATR management decided against the fixes and formal flight manual and training changes primarily for cost and competitive sales reasons.
“Instead, ATR mailed flyers regarding severe icing to its airline clients to put in their pilot rooms as a ridiculously half-hearted pilot education effort,” said Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner at Clifford Law Offices in Chicago, an internationally recognized aviation firm. “However, the airlines and its manufacturers, along with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) failed to do the right thing and redesign the lateral control and de-icing systems, and formally educate and train ATR pilots on the specific problems their fleet had demonstrated in severe icing conditions.”
In addition to not wanting to spend the money redesigning the lateral control and de-icing systems, ATR feared it would lose sales to competitors if it was the only turboprop airplane to have specific manufacturer-imposed design, flight manual and training changes for flight in severe icing conditions. The French DGAC, its version of the U.S. FAA, went right along with the Aerospatiale/ATR decisions to continue flying the ATR turboprops even after the Roselawn crash investigation findings resulted in the grounding of the ATR fleet in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Clifford represented 16 of the 68 Roselawn Flight 4184 victims. As the trial was set to begin, the defendants agreed to a record $110 million settlement and an unprecedented apology from both ATR and American Eagle in open court.
“So here we are almost 25 years after the Flight 4184 tragedy and we are witnessing a similar tragedy unfold with the Boeing 737 MAX design and certification program,” Clifford said. “News reports abound with current and former Boeing and FAA employees leaking details about how Boeing and the FAA, in their efforts to compete with improved versions of the Airbus A320, improperly engineered and rushed the 737 MAX program and delegated an excessive and fatal level of safety oversight to Boeing even after the fatal October 2018 Lion Air 737 MAX crash.”
Clifford continued, “The 737 MAX, as good as it is in many respects, appears to be headed for the same shameful destiny as the ATR turboprops. Boeing and the FAA both have blood on their hands in the form of 346 deaths in the past five months of 737 MAX operations.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, Congress, the NTSB and the aviation world seem to be jumping on the 737 MAX investigation and social media firestorm. The French, who were furious about the ATR investigation, grounding, public embarrassment and financial lashing, must be shocked to see its primary worldwide competitor having made similar and perhaps worse mistakes almost 25 years later.
When will they ever learn?
For further information, contact Clifford Law Offices Communications Partner Pamela Sakowicz Menaker at 847-721-0909 (cell).