Boeing agrees to pay a large fine after pleading guilty

The 737 Max Door-Plug Blowout: Why Do We Need More? The Two Alaska Airlines Flights Killed in January 2018 and 2019

The guilty plea follows renewed scrutiny over Boeing after a door plug blew out of a 737 Max plane during a flight out of Portland, Oregon, in January. A National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that four bolts appeared to have been missing from that door plug. The DOJ opened a criminal investigation into the incident in March, and in May the agency said Boeing had violated the terms of an earlier deal, which made the company vulnerable to prosecution.

That letter came just a few months after a door-plug panel blew off a 737 Max jet in midair in January. The incident involved Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 sparked renewed scrutiny of Boeing’s operations by federal regulators, as well as the Justice Department.

While De Luis says he would welcome a guilty plea from Boeing, he and other family members were hoping to see even bigger fines — as well as personal accountability for Boeing’s leaders. De Luis argues those tougher penalties are necessary to ensure that “we’re not back here in a couple of years with the same story, with the same issues.”

The two crashes, which happened in 2018 and 2019, killed more than 300 people. The planes malfunctioned because of software that was intended to correct for a design flaw — and that software, called MCAS, relied on just a single external sensor for its data. However, when Boeing launched the 737 Max, it didn’t tell the Federal Aviation Administration, airlines, or pilots about MCAS in order to skirt time-consuming safety regulations. When the two flights went down, the pilots were actively fighting against MCAS — and likely did not even know the software existed.

In a meeting with the victims’ families last month, prosecutors said Boeing would be responsible for proposing potential candidates for an outside monitor. But the victims’ families argued that would give the company too much influence in the process.

The Case for a Monitor of Corporate Malfeasance in the Wake of a Flight: Javier de Luis, Jr., and Graziella De Luis

“The penalties that the DOJ has asked for here are just woefully inadequate,” said Javier de Luis, a lecturer in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

De Luis’s sister Graziella died in the crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in 2019. De Luis also served on an expert panel convened by the Federal Aviation Administration after the crash of that Boeing 737 Max 8 jet, and another one the year before, that killed 346 people in total.

This time, the Justice Department insisted on an independent monitor to ensure Boeing is complying with the terms of the agreement. VeronicaRootMartinez, an expert on corporate malfeasance and a professor at Duke University School of Law, said that that is a tool the department uses frequently.

The families of victims disagree with the Justice Department about how the monitor should be appointed.

Any member of the public can propose a proposed monitor, if they meet certain qualifications. The DOJ would make the final decision, with input from Boeing.

According to a lawyer from the firm who is representing some of the victims’ families, “We do not think that Boeing should be near the selection of the monitor because they have proven in the past that they cannot be trusted.”

The proposed plea deal still needs approval from U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor in Texas, who could hold a hearing in the case as soon as this month.

The test is whether the charges are resolved in a way that is in the public interest. “And the victims, I think, have some very powerful, powerful reasons to suggest this isn’t a good deal.”

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