USAir Crash Finding May Hurt Boeing

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A bad year for Boeing may be about to get worse. Hard on the heels of the airplane manufacturer's 50,000-job downsizing induced by the global economic slump comes an NTSB draft report that would force the manufacturer to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars to redesign the 737. USA Today reports Friday that the NTSB's draft probable-cause finding on the 1994 USAir 737 crash near Pittsburgh, which killed all 132 people aboard, blames a fault in the hydraulic rudder system, and calls for a redesign. "This finding is being furiously debated at the NTSB," says TIME reporter Jerry Hannifin. "They all have to sign off on it and there's considerable dissent." The report may yet change before it's presented for adoption at a March 23 hearing.

"A finding that this crash and other incidents were caused by a 'hard-over' rudder problem requiring a redesign could bring a huge loss to both Boeing and the airlines," says Hannifin. "With about 1600 737s currently in service in the U.S., a total grounding of the plane would paralyze air transportation -- it's more likely they would require implementation of any new design, which must be agreed between Boeing and NASA, within ten flying days." And Boeing's legal department could then brace for the inevitable slew of class action suits.