Boeing accepts guilty plea deal over 737 Max crashes

July 8, 2024
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Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge related to a pair of crashes of its 737 Max planes, as part of a plea deal with the US Department of Justice. Lawyers for the victims’ families plan to object to the deal, which was forged on Sunday just before a midnight deadline and must still be approved by a federal judge.

The two crashes, which happened in 2018 and 2019, killed more than 300 people. The planes malfunctioned because of software that was intended to correct for a design flaw — and that software, called MCAS, relied on just a single external sensor for its data. However, when Boeing launched the 737 Max, it didn’t tell the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines, or pilots about MCAS in order to skirt time-consuming safety regulations. When the two flights went down, the pilots were actively fighting against MCAS — and likely did not even know the software existed.

The agreement allows Boeing to avoid a trial after the Justice Department found the company had violated a former settlement that previously shielded it from prosecution. In 2021, Boeing entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ over the crashes and was fined $2.5 billion. Under the new deal, Boeing now faces up to $487.2 million in additional penalties, and has agreed to install an independent oversight monitor and spend at least $455 million to improve its compliance and safety programs. The company is also subject to court-supervised probation over the next three years, according to the court filing.

Boeing’s board of directors has also agreed to a meeting with families of the crash victims as part of the agreement, which the families have criticized as a “sweetheart deal.” Paul Cassell, a lawyer for victims’ family members, is planning to object to the deal on their behalf, saying to The Washington Post that “through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DOJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden.” Boeing previously agreed to pay the families $500 million.

“We are extremely disappointed that DOJ is moving forward with this wholly inadequate plea deal despite the families’ strong opposition to its terms.”

“We are extremely disappointed that DOJ is moving forward with this wholly inadequate plea deal despite the families’ strong opposition to its terms,” said Erin Applebaum, who is also representing families of the crash victims, in a statement to Bloomberg. “While we’re encouraged that Boeing will not be able to choose its own monitor, the deal is still nothing more than a slap on the wrist and will do nothing to effectuate meaningful change within the company.”

The guilty plea follows renewed scrutiny over Boeing after a door plug blew out of a 737 Max plane during a flight out of Portland, Oregon, in January. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that four bolts appeared to have been missing from that door plug. The DOJ announced in March that it was opening a criminal investigation into the incident, and in May, the agency said Boeing had violated the terms of the earlier agreement, which opened the company up to the possibility of prosecution.

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