Boeing to plead guilty to felony in 737 Max crashes: DOJ

Boeing has agreed to plead guilty in the criminal case over two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max jetliners, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a Sunday night court filing.

Under the deal, which still requires a federal judge’s approval, Boeing agreed to pay a $487.2 million fine and invest at least $455 million in its safety and compliance programs, according to the filing in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

The agreement was filed hours ahead of the deadline for Boeing to respond to the offer and avert a criminal trial. Boeing confirmed to The Hill it reached a deal but had no further comment.

It comes nearly two months after the DOJ found Boeing violated a 2021 settlement related to two crashes in 2018 and 2019 involving Boeing’s 737 Max jetliners. The crashes killed 346 people.

Prosecutors in 2021 alleged Boeing committed conspiracy to defraud the government by misleading regulators about a flight-control system involved in the crashes. Under the 2021 settlement, the DOJ agreed not to prosecute Boeing on the crash for three years, but it found in May the company breached the terms of the agreement.

In addition to the fines and investment requirements, Boeing will also be independently monitored for its safety and quality procedures over the next three years.

The plea deal only covers wrongdoing by Boeing before the crashes and does not give the plane manufacturer immunity for other incidents or cover current or former Boeing officials, according to the filing.

The Hill has reached out to the DOJ for comment.

Paul Cassell, a lawyer for 15 families of victims, told The Hill some of the families filed an objection to the deal in court Sunday. According to that filing, the plea deal “unfairly makes concessions that other criminal defendants would never receive.”

The deal “fails to hold Boeing accountable” for the 346 killed in the two crashes, the filing added.

“This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died.  Through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DOJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden,” Cassell said. 

Cassell called on the judge to reject the deal, which he said is “not in the public interest,” to pave the way for a public trial.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was grilled by senators over the settlement and other safety concerns during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing last month, during which he apologized to the families of the crash victims.

“I want to personally apologize, on behalf of everyone at Boeing. We are deeply sorry for your losses. Nothing is more important than the safety of the people who step on board our airplanes. Every day, we seek to honor the memory of those lost through a steadfast commitment to safety and quality,” Calhoun said.

The following day, a group of families released a letter to the DOJ, calling on federal prosecutors to bring “aggressive criminal prosecution” against the plane-maker.

Boeing came under national scrutiny last January, when a door blew out of a 737 Max 9 aircraft while in the air. The blowout caused a hole in the side of the aircraft, and pilots were forced to make an emergency landing back at Portland International Airport in Oregon. 

The Federal Aviation Administration temporarily grounded all 737 Max 9 aircraft and launched a probe into the manufacturer. It found issues with safety checks and manufacturing in Boeing’s build process, prompting increased pressure from regulators and Congress to address the problems.

Mark Lindquist, an aviation attorney who represented dozens of victims’ families in the two deadly crashes and 31 passengers on the blowout flight, said Boeing’s guilty plea was “inevitable.”

He argued a trial would have surfaced Boeing’s “negligence, misconduct and dirty laundry,” adding it was crucial that Boeing “no longer sacrifice safety for profits.”

“Next steps for the company [Boeing] should include accepting full responsibility in the civil cases and full compliance with the conditions of the guilty plea,” Lindquist told The Hill. “Many of us would like to see Boeing refocus on quality and return to its former greatness.”

Updated at 3:42 p.m. EDT

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