Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington

Boeing Faces Criticism Over ‘Sweetheart’ Plea Deal in 737 Max Crash Cases

The US Justice Department is reportedly close to finalizing an agreement with Boeing that would involve a corporate monitor and a fine in exchange for a guilty plea to criminal charges. This deal has sparked outrage among lawyers representing the families of victims from two fatal 737 Max crashes, who have labelled the proposal a “sweetheart deal.”

The criminal charges and potential plea deal follow a series of safety failures at Boeing, leading to multiple federal investigations and widespread condemnation from airlines, customers, lawmakers, and regulators. If confirmed, the criminal charges against Boeing, a major corporation, would be a significant blow to its financial health and further tarnish its reputation.

Victims’ families expressed their anger over the potential deal, accusing the government of allowing Boeing to evade accountability for the deaths caused by the crashes.

“I can tell you that the families are very unhappy and angered with DOJ’s decisions and proposal,” said Robert Clifford, lead counsel in the civil litigation against Boeing, in a statement. “There is no accountability, no admission that Boeing’s admitted crime caused the 346 deaths, and the families will most certainly object before Judge Reed O’Connor and ask that he reject the plea if Boeing accepts.”

Clifford and Paul Cassell, representing many family members of the 2018 Lion Air crash and 2019 Ethiopian Air crash victims, were briefed on the plea deal by the Justice Department. Cassell revealed that the deal includes three years of probation, a “small” fine, and a monitor to ensure safety compliance. The specific terms of the proposed offer have not been disclosed publicly, and neither Boeing nor the Department of Justice has commented on the situation.

Previous Agreement Breach
The Justice Department recently notified Boeing that its string of safety failures and production issues violated the terms of a 2021 agreement, which had allowed the company to avoid criminal charges for the two fatal 737 Max crashes. Incidents like a door plug blowing off an Alaska Airlines flight in January have highlighted ongoing safety and quality gaps at Boeing.

Last week, prosecutors recommended that the Justice Department file criminal charges against Boeing. The company has until the end of the week to decide whether to accept the plea deal or go to trial, with the deadline for filing criminal charges set for July 7.

Cassell criticized the exclusion of individual prosecutions within Boeing from the deal, stating, “The deal will not acknowledge, in any way, that Boeing’s crime killed 346 people. It also appears to rest on the idea that Boeing did not harm any victim.”

Despite the strong desire among families to see Boeing’s criminal case go to trial, the Justice Department fears it may not be able to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for a conviction in a criminal trial.

Ongoing Safety Concerns
Over a dozen whistleblowers have come forward against Boeing in recent years, with the numbers increasing since the January door plug incident. Last week, a whistleblower from Spirit Aerosystems, a Boeing manufacturing partner, revealed wide gaps in a key part of 787 Dreamliner planes, posing catastrophic risks to passengers.

To address its safety issues, Boeing is considering repurchasing Spirit Aerosystems to bring manufacturing in-house. Boeing and Spirit reportedly reached an agreement on a deal, according to Reuters, though details have not been publicly disclosed.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have launched multiple investigations into Boeing’s ongoing quality and safety failures. An FAA audit of Boeing’s facilities revealed numerous production practice problems, while a separate report identified gaps in Boeing’s safety culture, including a disconnect between management and employees and fears of retaliation for reporting safety concerns.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun recently apologized for the company’s safety failures during Senate testimony but denied claims of retaliation against employees who raised safety issues. Calhoun acknowledged that Boeing is “far from perfect” and that regaining public trust will be a challenging process.

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