July 9, 2024

Boeing pleads guilty to fraud – misleading FAA regulators resulting in the loss of 346 lives

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April 18, 2023. Ethiopian Airlines - Boeing 737 MAX.

Picture by: Michael Coghlan | Flickr

On July 7, Boeing pleaded guiltyto fraud in response to a lawsuit in which federal prosecutors from the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington accused Boeing employees of misleading and refraining from giving information to the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) regulators.

Boeing kept design flaws with the autopilot system of the Boeing 737 Max hidden, which led to the 346 total fatalities in crashes in Ethiopia(2018) and Indonesia(2019).

Much less than the original $24.8bnthat the families of victims suggested, Boeing will have to pay up to $487mn in fines. Family members have already expressed their great discontent with the results of the lawsuit.

Zipporah Kuria who lost her father Joseph from the Ethiopian Airlines crash, stated, “it is an atrocious abomination. I hope that, God forbid, if this happens again the DOJ is reminded that it had the opportunity to do something meaningful and instead chose not to.”

An aerospace engineer, Javier de Luis, who lost his sister Graziella in the Lion Air crash in Indonesia commented, “when the next crash happens, every DOJ official that signed off on this deal will be as responsible as the Boeing executives that refuse to put safety ahead of profits”.

Even before the two planes crashed, doubt circulated through Boeing staff. An employee message from 2017 that resurfaced in 2020 read that the 737 Max plane was “designed by clowns”.

How did we get to this moment?

On October 29, 2018, Lion Air Flight JT 610 took off from Jakarta, Indonesia, and soon after plunged into the Java Sea. All 189 people on the flight were killed. Around five months later, on March 10, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa, set for Nairobi, Kenya, and crashed after take-off. The 157 people on board were killed.

Starting with China on March 11, 2019, countries began to hold back their 737 Max planes, and other countries would follow, with the US lagging behind until March 15, 2019.

On April 4, 2019, Boeing stated that the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) feature, which had the intent to stop the plane from stalling, pushed the nose of the plane down without the pilot’s intention. The former CEO of Boeing, Dennis Muilenburg would testify before a Senate committee on October 29, 2019, a year after the Lion Air flight crashed. Less than a month later, Muilenburg was fired as the CEO of Boeing and David Calhoun, a chairman of Boeing, took charge.

In January, 2020, Boeing stopped production of the 737 plane, eliminating hopes of a swift fix. Then on November 18, 2020, the FAA ended the grounding of the 737 Max which lasted 20 months.

Alaska Airlines 737 Max 9 flight had a door blowout on January 5, 2024 just minutes into the flight, resulting in a chuck of the side of the plane vacuuming out some of the passengers’ items, but resulting in no serious injuries. It was later learned that this incident was due to a lack of bolts in the door.

On March 1, 2024, the FAA pointed out more potential issues about the 737 Max and the 787 Dreamliner, but the planes are still allowed to fly. Just 10 days later, a 787 Dreamliner flight from LATAM Airlines from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, Australia suddenly dropped, injuring dozens of passengers who were flown to the ceiling of the cabin.

Following the continual of troubling events, Boeing announced on March 25, 2024 that David Calhoun will be stepping down as CEO as of the start of 2025.

F.A.A. Investigates Claims by Boeing Whistle-Blower About Flaws in 787 Dreamliner

On April 9, 2024, the FAA said that they were investigating a case in which a whistle-blower claimed that Boeing purposefully used shortcuts when designing the 777 and 787 Dreamliner planes.

June 18, 2024 was the first time that CEO David Calhoun spoke in front of a Senate subcommittee and addressed the whistle-blower, and insisted that the company is working on improvements. Nevertheless, it was clear that many criticised and questioned the CEO and Boeing.

On Sunday July 7, 2024, Boeing pleaded guilty for its actions during FAA inspections.

The future is unknown – should we be afraid to travel?

The DOJ argued that ‘Boeing will be required to make historic investments to strengthen and integrate its compliance and safety programs. This criminal conviction demonstrates the department’s commitment to holding Boeing accountable for its misconduct.’

While accidents such as aeroplane crashes are rare, with the resources that Boeing has and the pressure from the US government and the public, one can hope that these unfortunate events will be limited in the future.

Aeroplane crashes and mishaps are publicised a lot so it might seem that flying will put yourself in danger, but as US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg says, “American aviation is the safest means of travel in the world”.

Written by:


Noah Saphier


New Jersey, United States of America

Born in 2007 in New Jersey, Noah Aaron Brühl Saphier studies in Englewood New Jersey, United States of America. He is interested in journalism, science, sports, and history. For Harbingers’ Magazine, he writes about sports, exploration, and global conflicts.

In his free time, Noah plays tennis and the violin, learns about exploration in the ocean and space, and travels. Noah speaks English, Spanish, and German.

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