SEATTLE -- Two-and-a-half years after the deadly Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash, with the final investigation report into the accident still pending, the airline's management has reached a settlement with Boeing and said it expects to resume flying the jet again by January.
Ethiopian CEO Tewolde GebreMariam said he was convinced "beyond reasonable doubt" that the Max as upgraded by Boeing after two fatal crashes is now safe.
"We are happy on the settlement," Tewolde said.
"I can confirm that we are committed to the Boeing 737 Max," he said. "My estimate is by the end of the calendar year or beginning of next year, January, we will be flying the airplane."
The Ethiopian government's aviation authority has not yet lifted the grounding of the Max imposed a day after Flight ET 302 crashed in March 2019 and took 157 lives. Yet clearly, the government-owned airline fully expects the regulators to approve the jet's return to service by the end of the year.
The financial terms of the settlement were not disclosed. The Seattle Times reported exclusively in January that Boeing had then offered an amount on the order of $500 million to $600 million, a large portion of which was not cash but concessions, including discounts on future airplane sales and waivers on maintenance costs.
A Chicago law firm advising the airline wrote a letter to CEO Tewolde urging him to reject a settlement and instead to sue the manufacturer for punitive damages in the U.S., hoping to win "not less than $1.8 billion in cash." That advice wasn't taken.
The state-owned airline has struggled for 18 months with the extreme downturn in air travel because of the covid-19 pandemic.
Parallel to the settlement over the Max, Ethiopian Airlines this week made public a related agreement: Boeing will partner with Ethiopian to make the airline's base in Addis Ababa "Africa's aviation hub" and to set up a manufacturing facility there to make airplane parts.
Ethiopia already supplies some small-scale wire harnesses for Boeing aircraft. Boeing has committed to expand local capabilities both in aerospace manufacturing and in airplane repair and overhaul.
This aviation work will complement the planned construction of a new $5 billion airport south of the capital.
In addition, the partnership will promote the training of pilots and aircraft technicians at the airline's Aviation Academy in Addis Ababa, and STEM education in Ethiopian schools.
Bob Clifford, a Chicago-based lawyer representing families of the crash victims, isn't surprised by the news of a settlement.
"Life goes on," Clifford said. "Boeing very much wants to put this chapter behind it."
Of course, for the families of those killed, there's little inclination to "move on."
Javier de Luis, an aerospace engineer and the brother of 63-year-old Graziella de Luis Ponce who worked as an interpreter for the U.N. and died on flight ET 302, noted "the steady cadence of reports of quality failures at Boeing" during the past year.
He cited the manufacturing issues that have stopped deliveries of the 787 Dreamliner as well as the aborting of Boeing's latest Starliner rocket launch.
"The problems at Boeing are ongoing, and I see no evidence of any fundamental change in the company culture or behavior since the crash," said de Luis. "I don't understand why we keep acting as if this is the same Boeing from 30 years ago. It's not."
Michael Stumo, father of 24-year-old Samya Rose Stumo who was killed in the Ethiopian crash, said Boeing is "using money to buy off Ethiopian Airlines."
He said he remains committed to pushing for increased aviation safety through tighter oversight of Boeing by the Federal Aviation Administration.