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Boeing agrees to plead guilty to fraud over two 737 Max plane crashes

The plea, filed minutes before a midnight deadline, has yet to be accepted. Relatives of the 346 people who died in the crashes off the coast of Indonesia and in Ethiopia want Boeing executives to face charges.


Aerospace Giant Boeing has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge involving two of its 737 Max planes which crashed off the coast of Indonesia and in Ethiopia. The crashes resulted in the deaths of 346 people.

According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the aerospace giant is offering to pay a fine of $243.6 million (€225.11 million), which matches the fine it paid in 2021.

The company’s decision, if agreed, would allow it to avoid a criminal trial, a point that many of the victims’ families see as imperative.They argue that the deal fails to hold Boeing accountable because Boeing can prevent legal admission that their engineering blunders were responsible for the deaths of their crew and passengers.

Relatives of some of the passengers who died have indicated they will ask a federal judge in Texas to throw out the agreement, which they say is too lenient considering the lives that were lost. They want a trial, a huge fine, and Boeing leaders to face charges.

The Department of Justice says that a conviction for fraud will ensure accountability for Boeing’s « misstatements » in 2017 regarding the 737 Max. The crashes occurred less than five months apart in 2018 and 2019.

The company continues to face investigations due to an incident in January. In January, Alaska Airlines Max had a blowout of a panel, resulting in accusations of poor workmanship from current and former employees.

What is Boeing admitting to?

The aerospace company will admit to criminal fraud concerning deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration.

The first charge took place in 2021, but the terms of the agreement were not to prosecute Boeing if they paid a fine and completed three years of corporate probation, also known as a deferred prosecution agreement.

In May, the Justice Department found the company had violated the terms of its corporate probation, which led to Sunday’s plea deal.

The new plea deal could potentially remove the stain on Boeing’s reputation – the felony charge of deceiving aviation regulators who approved the airplane and the flying requirements to ensure safety.

Boeing’s proposed new agreement

Boeing has agreed to pay a total fine of $487.2 million (€450.2 million), the legal maximum according to the Justice Department. The agreement also requires the company to invest a minimum of $455 million (€420.5 million) to improve safety following a three-year corporate probation.

Boeing’s board of directors must also personally meet with victims and their families.

Angry response from the victims’ families

Many have said they are furious with the agreement.

Zipporah Kuria, a 28-year-old London woman whose father, Joseph, was on the Ethiopian Airlines Max that crashed in March 2019, wanted a trial because she thought it would have revealed new details about what led up to the crashes.

Now, with the growing possibility that there will not be a trial, she says: « The opportunity to continue digging, the opportunity to continue finding out what has gone wrong here and what is wrong, is kind of taken away from us.

« So, yet again, they (the victims) have been robbed of their dignity, and we have been robbed of our closure. »

Javier de Luis, an MIT aeronautics lecturer whose sister, Graziella, died in the Ethiopia crash, also finds the punishment for Boeing to be inadequate.

« If you look at the elements that make up this plea agreement, they’re pretty much typical for what you would expect to see in a white-collar fraud investigation – not in the case of a crime that led directly to the deaths of 346 people, » he said.


Meanwhile, in another Boeing scare, a plane lost a wheel on Monday during take-off from Los Angeles International Airport on a flight to Denver. The plane managed to land at its destination and the wheel was later recovered. No injuries were reported. It is the second time this year such an incident has happened.

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