Boeing agrees to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges in connection with 737 Max crashes


The world’s second-largest aircraft manufacturer Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges in connection with two 737 Max crashes that killed more than 300 people between 2018 and 2019 in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The proposed plea agreement must still be approved by a judge. As part of the deal with the Justice Department, Boeing would agree to pay a $243.6 million criminal fine. The company would also invest an additional $455 million in its compliance and safety programs and agree to hire an independent, government-appointed compliance monitor to oversee its operations for at least three years. While families of the crash victims criticized the deal as an ineffectively lenient punishment, the federal government suggested that Boeing employees could still be held liable for future charges. By pleading guilty to criminal fraud charges filed earlier this year by the Justice Department, Boeing will avoid a criminal trial that could have resulted in much stiffer penalties. But additional criminal charges against Boeing executives or employees could still be on the table. The most recent plea agreement, revealed in court documents Sunday, is specifically tied to misconduct surrounding the 737 Max crashes. That means Boeing could still face penalties for alleged misconduct that critics and whistleblowers say contributed to a series of high-profile safety incidents in recent months. The Justice Department said in its filing that it would grant “no immunity” to individual employees of the company as part of the agreement. Boeing could pay up to $487 million in total penalties under the new plea agreement. That’s a far cry from the reported $24.8 billion that families of crash victims had hoped to pay the company in restitution. Those families of victims are expected to publicly oppose the settlement. Paul Cassell, an attorney representing some of the families suing Boeing, told CNN the agreement amounts to a “sweetheart deal” for Boeing. Erin Applebaum, another attorney representing crash victims, described the deal as nothing more than a “slap on the wrist” that would “do nothing to effect meaningful change within the company” during a recent interview with Bloomberg. A Boeing spokesperson confirmed to Popular Science that the company had reached “an agreement in principle” with the DOJ. The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Deal marks Boeing’s second deal with DOJ in three years The criminal charges underlying the most recent settlement stem from a pair of 737 Max plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 passengers and crew. Public outrage following the crashes led Boeing to ground the planes for 20 months. Investigators who dug into the events at the time revealed that the crashes were linked to a previously undisclosed piece of software called MCAS, which was intended to correct a design flaw in the planes. Data from one of the affected 737 Max flight data recorder systems, commonly known as a “black box,” reportedly showed evidence of pilots physically fighting the MCAS system in a desperate attempt to prevent the planes from nosediving. Frantic audio recordings made from inside the cockpit reportedly suggested that the pilots did not know how to address the faulty software. Boeing eventually admitted that its employees had withheld information about the design flaw from the Federal Aviation Administration, leading the DOJ to charge the company in 2021 with one count of conspiracy to defraud regulators. At the time, Boeing struck a deal with federal prosecutors, agreeing to pay $2.5 billion to fix those problems. However, a more recent DOJ investigation into the company following a series of safety incidents alleged that Boeing may have violated parts of the 2021 agreement, leaving it open to further prosecution. This week’s plea agreement would resolve that dispute. But Boeing isn’t free from potential legal hurdles just yet. The planemaker came under fire again earlier this year after a door plug on an Alaskan Airlines plane came loose during flight. Since then, passengers aboard Boeing flights have suffered injuries, jarring wheel separations and planes rolling off the runway. An investigation into the door plug issue revealed that Boeing suppliers had used Dawn dish soap and hotel key cards to secure the door seal, a practice the company has since defended as an “innovative approach.” Making matters worse, a new whistleblower complaint filed against the company earlier this year alleges that Boeing’s top supplier allowed fuselages to ship from the factory with serious defects. In total, Boeing is said to have been the subject of 32 whistleblower claims in just three years.

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