NTSB castigates Boeing for sharing non-public info to media on door plug probe

Boeing 737 MAX 9 plug door

The National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) has castigated Boeing after discovering officials disclosed non-public information regarding the Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 plug door investigation to members of the media. 

According to a statement by the NTSB on June 27, 2024, Boeing “blatantly violated” investigative regulations and an agreement signed by the planemaker not to share information privy to the probe or speculate about causes of the 737-9 door plug blowout on January 5, 2024.  

The NTSB said that on June 25, 2024, Boeing held a media briefing at its facility in Renton to talk about quality improvements but during the event a company executive “provided investigative information” and gave an “analysis of factual information already previously released”. 

“Both of these actions are prohibited by the party agreement that Boeing signed when it was offered party status by the NTSB at the start of the investigation. As a party to many NTSB investigations over the past decades, few entities know the rules better than Boeing,” the NTSB wrote in a scathing statement. 

The NTSB added that during the media briefing Boeing portrayed the NTSB investigation as a “search to locate the individual responsible for the door plug work”.  

‘Few entities know the rules better than Boeing’

The NTSB has been at pains to ensure employees at Boeing know that it is not a witch-hunt and that it is only focused on the “probable cause” of the accident without placing blame on any individual.  

After the NTSB learned of the violation, Boeing provided a transcript of the media briefing which revealed that the executive had shared information that the safety board had not “verified or authorized for release”. 

“Boeing offered opinions and analysis on factors it suggested were casual to the accident,” the NTSB said in its statement.  

Following the disclosure, the NTSB announced several restrictions and sanctions against Boeing.  

The NTSB said that Boeing will retain its party status but will “no longer have access to the investigative information the NTSB produces as it develops the factual record of the accident”. 

“The NTSB will also subpoena the company to appear at an investigative hearing into the case scheduled for Aug 6 and 7 in Washington, DC. Unlike the other parties in the hearing, Boeing will not be allowed to ask questions of other participants,” the NTSB said. 

The NTSB confirmed that it will advise the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the unauthorized disclosure.  

“Given that Boeing is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice in relation to its Deferred Prosecution Agreement stemming from Boeing’s interactions with the FAA prior to the Boeing 737 MAX fatalities, the NTSB will be coordinating with the DOJ Fraud Division to provide details about Boeing’s recent unauthorized investigative information releases in the 737 MAX 9 door plug investigation,” the safety board said. 

Boeing is waiting to hear what punishment it will face from the DOJ for violating its 2021 deferred prosecution agreement put in place following the 737 MAX fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.      

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