Boeing may be indicted after violating a safety agreement barring criminal charges for the 737 crash, the US DOJ said

Boeing may be indicted after violating a safety agreement barring criminal charges for the 737 crash, the US DOJ said

The US Department of Justice on Tuesday notified Boeing that it violated the terms of a 2021 agreement under which the company avoided criminal charges for two fatal 737 Max crashes.

After a series of safety blunders earlier this year, including a door plug that blew up an Alaska Airlines flight shortly after takeoff in January, the Justice Department said Boeing is now subject to criminal prosecution.

“As a result of failing to fully comply with the terms and obligations under the [deferred prosecution agreement], Boeing is subject to prosecution by the United States for any federal criminal violations known to the United States,” the Justice Department said in a letter to US District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, which oversaw the previous deal.

The Biden administration said in its letter that it has not determined how it will proceed, however, and that Boeing will have an opportunity to respond to the violation of the agreement – and the steps it has taken to remedy the situation – by June 13. will tell the court by July 7 how it will proceed with the case.

The announcement comes as the Justice Department conducts a new investigation into Boeing’s operations following the door plug incident. The previous agreement had resolved a fraud investigation related to the company’s development of its 737 Max aircraft.

Under a deferred prosecution agreement from January 2021, Boeing paid a $2.5 billion penalty and pledged to improve its safety and compliance protocols. The families of the victims of the October 2018 Lion Air 737 Max crash and the March 2019 Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max crash have long criticized the delayed plea deal, arguing it denied them justice for the deaths of their loved ones.

Victims’ families and lawyers representing them met with the Justice Department late last month to persuade the Biden administration to end the deal in light of several safety lapses at Boeing this year and in the past few years after the 2021 deal was reached.

After the April 2024 meeting, attorney Paul Cassell, who represents the victim’s family, said at a press conference that the deferred prosecution agreement was “rigged” and worked out without the family’s say. Cassell promised to hold Boeing accountable for its “fraud and misconduct.”

On Tuesday, Cassell said, “This is a positive first step, and for the family, it’s a long time coming. But we need to see further action from the DOJ to hold Boeing accountable, and plan to use our May 31 meeting to explain with further detail what we believe will be a satisfactory remedy to Boeing’s continued criminal conduct.”

The Justice Department said in its letter that it had notified the family that Boeing breached its agreement, and that it would continue to talk with the families of the crash victims and other airline customers about next steps. The Department of Justice plans to meet with the family on May 31.

In a letter Thursday to the federal judge overseeing the previous agreement, the Justice Department said it had notified the company that “the government has determined that Boeing breached its obligations” in several parts of the 2021 agreement “by failing to design, implement and enforce compliance and ethics programs to prevent and detect violations of U.S. fraud laws throughout its operations.”

Boeing safety issues following its deal
Despite vowing to clean up its act, Boeing has suffered endless quality and safety failures in the years since its deferred prosecution agreement.

On September 20, 2021, just months into its deal, Boeing revealed it had found an empty tequila bottle inside one of two 747 jets being refurbished for use as the next generation of Air Force One.

In April 2023, Boeing announced its supplier was using a “non-standard manufacturing process”, delaying delivery of the 737 Max.

In February 2024, a month after the door plug incident, a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the plane leaving a Boeing factory was missing four bolts needed to fasten the door plug. Later that month, the Federal Aviation Administration released a report that was highly critical of the culture at Boeing, citing “gaps in Boeing’s safety journey,” and gave Boeing 90 days to come up with a plan to fix its problems. The FAA report subsequently found numerous problems with Boeing’s production practices following a six-week audit.

In March, the FAA identified more potential safety issues with the 737 Max and 787 Dreamliner engines.

Last month, the FAA announced an investigation into whistleblower complaints that the company took shortcuts when manufacturing the 777 and 787 Dreamliner jets and that the risk could be catastrophic as the planes age. The company disputed the complaint.

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