Boeing will plead guilty to criminal charge over two 737 MAX crash tragedies

Boeing 737 MAX 8
Marco Menezes / Shutterstock

Boeing will plead guilty to a criminal fraud conspiracy charge in relation to two 737 MAX 8 crash tragedies in a deal secured with the Department of Justice (DoJ).  

The charge arose after the United States (US) government decided that Boeing had violated a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement put in place following the 737 MAX fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.    

The violation occurred when a door plug separated from an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 shortly after takeoff on January 5, 2024, just days before the three-year deferred prosecution was due to expire. 

Boeing will plead guilty to the criminal fraud conspiracy charge and pay an additional $243.6 million fine and invest at least $455 million in safety programs at the company if the plea deal receives the approval of a federal judge.  

Boeing will be able to avoid a high-profile court case through the new agreement which a lawyer for the crash victim’s families described as a “sweetheart deal”. 

According to the Associated Press, Boeing was presented with the US government’s terms last week and given a choice of admitting guilt and paying a fine or going to court. 

“We can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle on terms of a resolution with the Justice Department, subject to the memorialization and approval of specific terms,” Boeing said in a statement, following the legal filing by the DoJ on July 7, 2024.  

In addition, under the plea deal an independent monitor would be appointed to oversee safety processes at Boeing for three years.  

The agreement with the DoJ only covers the period before the crashes and does not protect past or present Boeing executives from prosecution in the future.  

On June 19, 2024, families of some of the victims that perished in the 737 MAX crashes urged the DoJ to fine the planemaker $24 billion and move ahead with criminal prosecution. 

In 2018 all 189 people on Lion Air Flight 610 died in a crash and in 2019 Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed killing all 157 onboard. Both planes were Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.    

The criminal fraud conspiracy charge relates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System used on the accident aircraft and that Boeing allegedly misled regulators about the flight-control system. 

There is speculation that a criminal conviction could cause problems for Boeing in relation to its defense aircraft production and contracts with NASA, although the US government is likely to argue that these arrangements are necessary in the national interest.  

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