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Air Astana sues Embraer over grounded planes

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Air Astana planes on the tarmac of Almaty International Airport, Kazakhstan, May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

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Kazakh flagship airline Air Astana JSC on Friday sued Embraer SA for at least $11.9 million, accusing the Brazilian airplane manufacturer of leasing planes that were "unsafe to fly" and had to be grounded.

In its lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan pursuant to a choice-of-law provision in the companies' lease agreement, Air Astana accused Embraer of engaging in "a course of conduct that was (at best) grossly negligent and displayed a reckless indifference to human life."

Embraer said in a statement that the company denied breaching any obligations to Air Astana and will "vigorously defend" against any claims.

"Air Astana is claiming compensation for its unilateral decision to suspend aircraft operations (and) was the only airline that suspended use of E2 aircraft, and they did so only temporarily and have since resumed all operations," the statement said.

Air Astana claimed in the lawsuit that five Embraer E190-300 regional jet aircraft it leased from Embraer were plagued with serious safety problems.

Those included failure of wing anti-icing system necessitating an emergency landing, a "cascading failure" of hydraulic systems during a landing, uncommanded changes in altitude and mechanical failures that resulted in missed approaches, according to the complaint.

The danger was exacerbated by the central Asian country's "treacherous terrain and challenging weather," and the fact that it has only 19 airports in its more than one million square miles that can accommodate an emergency landing by the planes, the company said.

In Saturday’s statement, Embraer said that in November 2020 an Air Astana E190-E2 had experienced a technical issue with a component, prompting Brazilian regulators to order shorter fleet-wide replacement times for that type of part.

“While issues such as this do occasionally occur, at no point did this constitute an immediate safety risk and the aircraft landed safely,” Embraer said.

While Air Astana does not allege that the problems led to any deadly accidents, it said it has been forced to ground its Embraer fleet since last December.

The airline said that when it contacted Embraer about the problems, the manufacturer suggested only "piecemeal or workaround solutions."

Air Astana is bringing claims for breach of contract and breach of warranty.

The case is Air Astana JSC v. Embraer SA, New York Supreme Court, County of New York

For Air Astana: Michael Lacovara of Latham & Watkins

For Embraer: Not immediately available

(Note: this story has been updated with a statement from Embraer)

Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.

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