Boeing to plead guilty to defrauding FAA over two deadly 737 Max crashes

Boeing manufactuing facility.

In a last-minute plea deal, Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to one charge of conspiring to defraud the federal government in connection with two deadly 737 Max crashes, and to pay nearly a half-billion dollars in fines.

The Justice Department said the company will pay up to $487 million in fines, the maximum allowed by law. It’s a fraction of the $24.8 billion that families had demanded, CNN and The New York Times reported.

The charges alleged that Boeing defrauded the Federal Aviation Administration during the certification process of the 737 Max.

If Boeing violates any terms of the deal, there will be additional penalties. It also does not extend immunity to employees or executives.

Boeing said in a statement, “... We have reached an agreement in principle on terms of a resolution with the Justice Department, subject to … approval of specific terms.”

The plane was put into service in 2017. Jets were grounded for nearly two years after crashes in 2018 and 2019. Investigators at that time found an issue with its autopilot.

Boeing claimed responsibility for the crashes, saying that employees withheld information from the FAA during the certification process.

The Justice Department and Boeing had reached a settlement on the criminal charges in January 2021. Boeing was on a three-year probation agreement during which the company said it would improve quality and transparency, but as the period was about to end, a door plug flew off during an Alaska Air flight.

The DOJ in May said it was considering criminal charges against Boeing, saying the company violated the 2021 agreement. The company refuted this.

Boeing avoided a trial in the case by agreeing to the last-minute guilty plea, which happened just before a midnight Sunday deadline.

The families of those killed in the 2018 Lion Air and 2019 Ethiopian Air crashes oppose the deal. They were told about it last week, the Times reported.

“This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died,” Paul Cassell said. Cassell is a law professor at the University of Utah and is representing many of the victims’ families, CNN reported.

Cassell said, “This deceptive and generous deal is clearly not in the public interest.” His clients are asking for a public trial.

In addition to the fine, Boeing will be under review by an independent group chosen by the government for three years. The company also must invest at least $455 million into its compliance and safety procedures, The New York Times reported.

As a condition of the plea, Boeing’s board of directors also will have to meet with the victims’ families.

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