How Boeing Mid-Air Blowout Could Imperil DOJ Crash Agreement From 2021

Families of the victims from two tragic Boeing 737 MAX crashes are intensifying their calls for criminal prosecution against the aerospace company following a mid-air incident in January that exposed persisting safety concerns.

Representatives of the victims are set to meet with U.S. Justice Department officials to assert that Boeing breached a 2021 agreement with prosecutors aimed at revamping its compliance program following the fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, which claimed 346 lives. Under this settlement, Boeing was shielded from criminal prosecution.

Justice Department officials are investigating Boeing’s compliance with the 2021 agreement and are including the January 5 blowout of an Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 jet as part of their review.

The agreement in 2021 involved Boeing paying $2.5 billion to resolve a criminal investigation into its conduct surrounding the crashes. It also mandated compensation for victims’ families and required Boeing to overhaul its compliance practices. This deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) allowed Boeing to avoid prosecution for conspiring to defraud the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with prosecutors agreeing to dismiss the fraud charge if Boeing complied with the terms over a three-year period.

Agreement criticized

However, families of the crash victims have criticized the agreement, arguing that it failed to hold the company and its executives accountable.

The January 5 blowout incident involved a panel detaching from a Boeing 737 MAX 9 jet mid-air, leading to an emergency landing in Portland, Oregon. Initial investigations suggested that four crucial bolts were missing from the panel, and Boeing faced scrutiny for not providing requested documents and names to investigators.

The Justice Department is now examining whether Boeing violated the 2021 agreement, particularly focusing on the adequacy of the company’s compliance program. Prosecutors may consider extending the settlement for another year or imposing oversight by a court-appointed monitor. They could also impose additional fines or push Boeing to plead guilty, potentially impacting the company’s ability to secure government contracts.

Meetings are scheduled between Justice Department officials and families of the victims from the 2018 and 2019 Boeing MAX crashes. While a recent “lawyers-only” meeting was deemed preparatory, an upcoming gathering on April 24 will provide an opportunity for families to engage directly with officials, though expectations regarding the ongoing investigation are limited.