Justice Dept reportedly starts criminal probe into Boeing door bolt incident

Plus: Pilots on Lion Air’s Batik fall asleep and miss Jakarta

Alaska Airlines is reportedly cooperating on a US Department of Justice (DoJ) criminal investigation into Boeing regarding an incident which saw an aircraft plug blow out of a 737 MAX 9 mid-flight in January.

"In an event like this, it's normal for the DoJ to be conducting an investigation. We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation," Alaska Airlines told Reuters.

The Register asked Boeing to comment but it refused and Alaska Airlines reiterated the statement above.

The Wall Street Journal reported at the weekend that the DoJ had contacted some passengers and crew regarding the incident and had already interviewed pilots and flight attendants on the flight.

Some passengers on the eventful January flight from Portland to Ontario were reportedly notified that they are potential victims of crime.

Part of what is under question is whether Boeing complied with a 2021 settlement regarding two fatal 737 MAX crashes that occurred in 2018 and 2019 and killed 346 people. Boeing was found at fault for how it communicated information about the aircraft's control system and was required to pay $2.6 billion in penalties and compensation, in addition to making some changes.

The major error in those two incidents was the ability of the airplane’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to override pilot input. After the crashes, reports emerged that pilots were not properly trained on MCAS or how to safely disable it. Boeing was noted in the investigation to have misled the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding how many training hours a pilot would need to fly the 737 MAX.

Last week the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) provided senate testimony regarding the January 5 2024 Alaska Airlines door blowout event. At the time, the organization's safety board chair Jennifer Homendy expressed a concern that a DoJ investigation could make one carried out by the NTSB more difficult.

"We don't want to tell any other agency what they should or should not do. Where it becomes a concern for us is when employees and others don't feel safe to speak to us," explained Homendy.

NTSB preliminary investigations point to missing bolts as the cause of the incident, but according to Homendy, Boeing had not provided documents and information related to "opening, closing, and removal of the door and the team that does that work at the Renton facility," even two months after the incident.

In response Boeing asserted that it had provided employee names, including door specialists, to the NTSB early in the investigation and handed over a full list of the 737 door team in a more recent request.

The company has claimed it believes the pertinent documentation was never made.

"With respect to documentation, if the door plug removal was undocumented there would be no documentation to share," added the aerospace giant.

Naptime or blame it on comms?

Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee concluded [PDF] late last month that an Airbus A320 flying from Kendari, Indonesia to Jakarta on a red eye on 25 January veered off course when the two pilots manning the aircraft both fell asleep.

The pilot in command had asked his copilot for permission to rest, and after around 90 minutes, the second-in-command inadvertently fell asleep. The duo overlapped in their naps by 28 minutes.

Subsequently the aircraft missed its destination, causing air control to attempt to contact the plane.

The pilot-in-command eventually woke up and blamed the problem on "radio communication" that had been resolved before landing uneventfully at Jakarta.

The airline, Batik Air, has suspended both pilots. Batik Air is the full service arm of Lion Air. Lion Air is the airline involved in the 2018 Boeing 737 MAX 8 crash.


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