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

(The Hill) -- 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 before the deadline for Boeing to respond to the offer and avert a criminal trial. Boeing confirmed to The Hill that 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 in total.

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 over the crash for three years, but found in May the company breached the terms of the agreement.

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In addition to the fines and investment requirements, Boeing will 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 reached out to the DOJ and some attorneys representing the families of the crash victims for comment.

Paul Cassell, a lawyer for 15 families of victims, told The Hill last month that the families would "strenuously object" to the plea deal.

“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,” Cassell wrote in a statement.

“The memory of 346 innocents killed by Boeing demands more justice than this,” he added.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun was grilled last month by senators over the settlement and other safety concerns during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing, 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.

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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.

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