Fraud guilty plea flies from Boeing to swerve courtroom over 737 Max crashes

Attorney for families of victims files objection

Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges related to deadly 737 Max crashes, according to a Sunday night court filing from the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

The plea deal amounts to Boeing accepting one felony count, a move that will in exchange allow it to skip a trial.

"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 told The Register.

As part of the plea deal [PDF], Boeing will pay an additional $487.2 million in penalties on top of $2.5 billion it already agreed to back in 2021. The aerospace giant will also invest at least $455 million in compliance and safety programs, have an independent compliance monitor selected by the government, and undergo three years of supervised probation.

The families of those who died in the crashes will also be granted a meeting with Boeing's board of directors.

Boeing originally avoided prosecution for the tragic crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in 2019, which killed a total of 346 people. The DoJ determined two 737 Max flight technical pilots employed by Boeing had withheld information from federal aviation officials regarding the aircraft's Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

"Because of their deception, a key document published by the FAA AEG lacked information about MCAS, and in turn, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials for US-based airlines lacked information about MCAS," asserted the DoJ.

Due to the omission of the information, the presumption would have been that many of Boeing's customers required no extra pilot training, a move that sadly left the pilots unaware that the MCAS was designed to automatically push the plane's nose down to prevent stalling in certain situations.

In May, the DoJ determined Boeing had failed to meet terms of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), which required the company report any future instances of fraud and enhance its compliance rules.

The DPA was set to expire in July, meaning that if Boeing had flown under the radar, it may have avoided the felony. However, it is difficult to go unnoticed when your aircraft company has a doorplug blow out of its product mid-air and whistleblowers alleging safety issues who sometimes end up dead.

The DoJ said it had formulated its Sunday plea offer based in part on feedback it received from the families of the crash victims.

Paul Cassell, an attorney for the families, filed [PDF] an objection to the agreement.

"The families intend to argue that the plea deal with Boeing unfairly makes concessions to Boeing that other criminal defendants would never receive and fails to hold Boeing accountable for the deaths of 346 persons," stated the objection. ®

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