United States

Boeing Faces Potential Prosecution For Breach Of 2021 Agreement

The US Justice Department has notified Boeing of a breach in its 2021 agreement, potentially subjecting the company to criminal prosecution. This follows a series of safety lapses, including a recent incident involving a door plug detaching from an Alaska Airlines flight.

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The US Justice Department issued a notification to Boeing on Tuesday, indicating a breach of the terms outlined in the 2021 agreement. This agreement had spared the aerospace giant from criminal charges pertaining to two fatal crashes involving its 737 Max aircraft.

Following a string of safety mishaps earlier this year, including an alarming incident where a door plug detached from an Alaska Airlines flight soon after takeoff in January, the Department of Justice asserted that Boeing now faces the possibility of criminal prosecution.

In a letter addressed to US District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth, Texas, responsible for overseeing the initial agreement, the Justice Department stated, “For failing to fulfill completely the terms of and obligations under the [deferred prosecution agreement], Boeing is subject to prosecution by the United States for any federal criminal violation of which the United States has knowledge.”

The Biden administration clarified in its correspondence that it has yet to determine the course of action it will pursue. Boeing will be given an opportunity to address its breach of the agreement and outline the steps it has taken to rectify the situation by June 13. A decision on the case will be communicated to the court by July 7.

This development coincides with a renewed investigation by the Justice Department into Boeing’s operations, triggered by the aforementioned door plug incident. The previous agreement had settled a fraud investigation related to the development of Boeing's 737 Max aircraft.

Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement reached in January 2021, Boeing had paid $2.5 billion in penalties and committed to enhancing its safety and compliance protocols. However, families of the victims of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes, which occurred in October 2018 and March 2019 respectively, criticized the agreement, arguing that it denied them justice.

The families and their legal representatives met with the Justice Department late last month, urging the Biden administration to terminate the agreement in light of Boeing’s repeated safety lapses. Attorney Paul Cassell, speaking on behalf of the victims’ families, characterized the deferred prosecution agreement as "rigged" and pledged to hold Boeing accountable for its "fraud and misconduct."

In response to Tuesday's notification, Cassell remarked, “This is a positive first step, and for the families, a long time coming. But we need to see further action from DOJ to hold Boeing accountable, and plan to use our meeting on May 31 to explain in more detail what we believe would be a satisfactory remedy to Boeing’s ongoing criminal conduct.”

The Justice Department confirmed that it had informed the families of the crash victims about Boeing's breach of the agreement and intends to continue consulting with them and other airline customers regarding the next steps. Further discussions are scheduled for May 31.

In its letter to the federal judge overseeing the initial agreement, the Justice Department outlined multiple breaches by Boeing, particularly concerning the failure to establish and enforce a compliance and ethics program to prevent violations of US fraud laws across its operations.

Boeing’s track record of safety issues following the 2021 agreement has raised concerns. Instances such as the discovery of empty tequila bottles inside Air Force One jets undergoing refurbishment, delays in deliveries of the 737 Max due to non-standard manufacturing processes, and the recent door plug incident have cast doubt on the company’s commitment to safety.