Fatal crashes of two 737 Max aircraft in 2018 and 2019: Boeing broke an agreement to avoid prosecution for two crashes, US authorities say

Fatal crashes of two 737 Max aircraft in 2018 and 2019: Boeing broke an agreement to avoid prosecution for two crashes, US authorities say
Fatal crashes of two 737 Max aircraft in 2018 and 2019: Boeing broke an agreement to avoid prosecution for two crashes, US authorities say

The US Department of Justice notified a federal judge, in a letter, this Tuesday, May 14, that Boeing had not respected certain conditions of an agreement which avoided it being criminally prosecuted for two accidents of its 737 MAX having caused a total of 346 deaths at the end of 2018 and the beginning of 2019.

From now on, “Boeing is liable to prosecution” in this file, writes the ministry, which says it is studying the possibility of pursuing, or not, the American aircraft manufacturer, in the midst of a storm after several recent incidents.

“We believe we have honored the conditions of this agreement,” Boeing reacted in a press release, saying it was ready to “answer” on this case managed by a federal judge in Texas.

Federal authorities “determined that Boeing violated its obligations” of the agreement “failure to have planned, implemented and enforced a program” aimed at complying with US laws “on all of its operations”, notes the letter from the ministry.

“For failing to fully follow the terms and obligations” of the agreement, “Boeing is subject to prosecution by (the federal government) for any criminal offense” known to the prosecution, we can still read on this legal document.

It is “a huge victory”, reacted to AFP Catherine Berthet, who lost her daughter Camille in the Ethiopian Airlines accident. “We will fight for a trial for wrongful manslaughter by Boeing and its executives.”

It’s a “good first step”but “We need to see further action from the Department of Justice to hold Boeing accountable,” Paul Cassell, who represents victims’ families, said in a statement.

A financial agreement

On January 7, 2021, Boeing concluded an agreement with the American authorities for an amount of $2.5 billion.

Through this financial agreement, the manufacturer admitted to having committed fraud, in exchange for the abandonment by the Ministry of Justice of some of the prosecutions targeting it since the two fatal accidents which had resulted in the immobilization of the 737 MAX for 20 months.

In detail, the aeronautics giant had agreed to pay the United States a criminal fine of 243.6 million, as well as 1.77 billion in compensation to the airlines having ordered the 737 MAX and 500 million for a fund intended to compensate the relatives of the victims of the two accidents.

On October 29, 2018, a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 crashed into the sea about ten minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing 189 people. The following March 10, the same Ethiopian Airlines model crashed six minutes after takeoff near Addis Ababa, killing 157 people.

Various investigations had notably questioned the MCAS anti-stall software and denounced inadequate pilot training.

“A first step”

Tuesday’s questioning of this agreement comes in a complicated context for Boeing.

Since the beginning of 2023, the manufacturer has had production problems linked to poor quality control, affecting its flagship aircraft, the 737 MAX, and the 787 Dreamliner.

The in-flight loss of a cap holder on January 5 on a new Alaska Airlines plane initiated a game of dominoes that has already caused the fall of several Boeing managers – such as its boss Dave Calhoun, whose departure is planned end of 2024– and the limitation of its production of 737 MAX.

Several whistleblowers have since testified before Congress to warn of “serious problems” of production.

These latest incidents have increased the attention of the authorities on the reliability of its aircraft and its compliance with safety procedures, and have even drawn into its turmoil the American regulator of civil aviation, the FAA.

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