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Boeing to plead guilty to felony charges over MAX 8 crashes

written by Jake Nelson | July 8, 2024

The 737 MAX 8 is the successor to the 737-800. (Image: Boeing)

Boeing will plead guilty to conspiring to defraud the US government over the safety failures of its 737 MAX 8 aircraft in what crash victims’ families are criticising as a “sweetheart deal”.

The planemaker will pay a US$487.2 million fine, the maximum allowed, and pour at least $455 million over the next three years into compliance and safety programs. It will also be placed under a three-year probation, to be supervised by an independent monitor to ensure compliance.

“We can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle on terms of a resolution with the Justice Department, subject to the memorialisation and approval of specific terms,” the company said in a statement on Monday.

The guilty plea relates to a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement between Boeing and the US Department of Justice over the fatal crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 on 29 October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on 10 March 2019, both operated by 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

The DoJ indicated earlier this year it was looking into whether Boeing had breached the agreement after the mid-air blowout of a door plug on board Alaska Airlines flight 1282 from Portland to Ontario, which was being operated by a 737 MAX 9 in January 2024.

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Federal district court Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, will now determine whether the plea agreement should be accepted.

Families of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crash victims have indicated they will fight the plea deal, which their attorney, Paul Cassell, saying it “fails to recognise that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died”.

“Through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DOJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden,” he said.

“A judge can reject a plea deal that is not in the public interest, and this deceptive and unfair deal is clearly not in the public interest.

“We plan to ask Judge O’Connor to use his recognised authority to reject this inappropriate plea and simply set the matter for a public trial, so that all the facts surrounding the case will be aired in a fair and open forum before a jury.”

One family member, aircraft engineer Javier de Luis, whose sister died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, said the DoJ is “repeating the same mistakes” with the deal, which appears to allow Boeing executives to escape individual criminal charges.

“The penalties and conditions imposed on Boeing as a result of this plea deal are not substantively different than those that failed to change Boeing’s safety culture and that resulted in the Alaska Air door blowout,” he said.

“This agreement ignores Judge O’Connor’s finding that Boeing’s fraud was directly responsible for the deaths of 346 people. It ignores the Fifth Circuit’s observation that an agreement such as this fundamentally needs to serve the manifest public interest of improving aviation safety.

“When the next crash happens, every DoJ official that signed off on this deal will be as responsible as the Boeing executives that refuse to put safety ahead of profits.”

Virgin is currently the only operator of the 737 MAX 8 in Australia following the collapse of Bonza.

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