Boeing Co. is reaching out to help families of victims and others affected by two crashes of its 737 Max jetliner. Does the $100 million fund go far enough?
The money is intended to support ''education, hardship and living expenses for impacted families, community programs, and economic development in impacted communities," Boeing said Wednesday in a statement. The funds will be made over multiple years.
Chairman and CEO Dennis Muilenburg called the fund an ``initial outreach'' and also apologized in the statement, stating that "we at Boeing are sorry for the tragic loss of lives in both of these accidents and 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."
Some experts said Boeing's moves are a step in the right direction. "Having advised airline manufacturers and airlines, the more sympathy, empathy, and concern that a manufacturer or airline shows for loss of life, and the more they show the willingness to show responsibility or do the right thing—some sort of human action—the less likely a survivor family member are to either sue or to increase the size of the lawsuit," said Scott Sobel, senior vice president in crisis and litigation communications firm Kglobal.
The Chicago-based plane maker is embattled on several fronts--it's facing multiple lawsuits and no clear time frame as to when the 737 Max will be back in the air. The crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 killed 346 people.
"Let's also make the assumption that Boeing is not just looking at this as a money issue but as a humanitarian issue," Sobel said. "To do the right thing and show sympathy and empathy in this way is the right thing to do."
To Adele Cehrs, chief executive officer of public relations firm When and How Agency, Boeing is ''pandering a bit.'' The company's efforts are being dictated by attorneys, she said, and ``when attorneys overrule how to address the court of public opinion, this is where companies get in trouble for a very long time.''
Others question the usefulness of the gesture. "One of the reasons why this proposal is not being well received is that the families are getting tired of having Boeing define money as their compensation," said Robert Clifford of Clifford Law Offices, which is representing families of dozens of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash. "The families want to know what Boeing knew, when they knew it, and what they're doing to change it."
In particular, many families don't have the remains or personal effects of their loved ones to have a burial or memorial service. "If Boeing wanted to help, they could take the money, go to the airline, and help [identify the remains]," Clifford said. "What is driving these families is that their loved ones needlessly died, that Boeing is trying to sweep it under the rug and define it about money only. They're not going away."
Boeing said it's listening. "I hear everything they're saying," Boeing spokesperson Charles Bickers told Fortune. "Important to note is that the pledge is absolutely independent of the lawsuits filed. It's an effort to make sure there's something constructive we can do over the coming years."
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