Boeing is ordered to appear in court for fatal crashes
19th January 2023

BREAKING NEWS: Boeing is ordered to appear in US court on felony charges for two 737 MAX crashes that left 346 dead after judge overturned $2.5billion immunity deal

  • US District Judge Reed O’Connor ordered Boeing to appear in court on January 26 to be arraigned on a 2021 felony charge
  • Boeing had previously won immunity from criminal prosecution
  • But O’Connor ruled in October that the victims of two Boeing 737 MAX crashes are legally considered ‘crime victims’ 

Executives from Boeing, one of the world’s largest plane manufacturers, will have to appear in court next week over two fatal crashes of its 737 MAX jets.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor on Thursday ordered the company to appear in court on January 26 to be arraigned on a 2021 felony charge, after families of the nearly 350 killed in the 2018 crash in Indonesia and the 2019 crash in Ethiopia objected to a plea deal.

Boeing had won immunity from criminal prosecution as part a $2.5billion Justice Department deferred prosecution agreement, and was instead charged with fraud conspiracy related to the 737 MAX’s flawed design.

But O’Connor, of Texas, ruled in October that people killed in the two Boeing 737 MAX crashes are legally considered ‘crime victims,’ and family members had urged him to require Boeing to be legally arraigned on the felony charge.

Those family members will now be able to speak at the hearing next week. It remains unclear what criminal charges the aircraft manufacturer could be charged with.

Boeing was ordered Thursday to appear in court next week to be arraigned on felony charges

Investigators with the U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) look over debris at the crash site of Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 on March 12, 2019 in Bishoftu, Ethiopia

 The families had argued that the Justice Department ‘lied and violated their rights through a secret process,’ and asked Reed to rescind Boeing’s immunity from criminal justice.

He said on Thursday any ‘lawful representative’ of the victims of the Lion Air crash in Indonesia in October 2018 and the Ethiopian Airlines crash in Ethiopia in March 2019 must provide notice to be able to speak at the hearing next week.

The two crashes killed a total of 346 people, and left all Max jets grounded worldwide for nearly two years.

They were cleared to fly again after Boeing overhauled an automated flight-control system that activated erroneously in both crashes.

Federal judge Reed O’Connor on Thursday ordered the company to appear in court on January 26 to be arraigned on a 2021 felony charge

Under the deal with the Justice Department in 2021, it agreed not to prosecute the company for conspiracy to defraud the government.

Both Boeing and the Justice Department have since opposed reopening the agreement, under which the plane manufacturer doled out $500million in victim compensation, a $243.6million fine and a $1.7billion compensation to airlines.

In a court filing in November, the Justice Department said it did not oppose an arraignment for Boeing, but said undoing the agreement ‘would impose serious hardships on the parties and the many victims who have received compensation.’

Boeing also said in court filings that it opposes any efforts to reopen the agreement, calling it ‘unprecedented, unworkable and inequitable.’

The Arlington, Virginia-based plane manufacturer declined to comment when reached by 

Relatives of crash victims mourn at the scene where the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 passenger jet crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all 157 on board

People are pictured near the collected debris of an Ethiopia Airlines flight in March 2019

Indonesian inspectors are seen at the site of the Lion Air Flight crash in November 2018

Forensic teams and workers are pictured on March 12, 2019, recovering wreckage from a Boeing Max flight that crashed outside of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia

Officials examine victims recovered from the Lion Air jet that crashed into Java Sea in October 2018

Boeing Max 737’s two deadly crashes: What happened?

Boeing was forced to ground the 737 Max after the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia happened less than six months apart.

The first disaster happened October 29, 2018, when a Max flying as Lion Air flight JT 610 fell into the Java Sea 15 minutes after taking off from Jakarta.

All 189 aboard the plane died, including 180 Indonesians, one Italian and one Indian.

The second crash occurred on March 10, 2019, when Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302, which also was a Max jet, took off from Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital and crashed. 

All 157 people onboard the plane died. 

US carriers American, United and Southwest had to cancel flights for the holidays, including over Christmas and into the new year, after the plane was grounded around the world.  

Boeing reported on July 14, 2019, that customers canceled orders for 60 of the grounded 737 MAX jets in June. 

The aircraft maker removed another 123 planes from its backlog over doubts that the deals will be completed.

Boeing also previously agreed to a $200million penalty from the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges that it ‘negligently violated the antifraud provisions,’ of US securities law.

The agency argued that just one month after the first crash, the company put out a press release approved by then-CEO Dennis Muilenburg that ‘selectively highlighted certain facts, implying pilot error and poor aircraft maintenance.’

That release failed to disclose that the company knew a key flight handling system, the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System posed safety issues and was never redesigned, the SEC argued.

Then, after the second crash, the agency said, Boeing and Muilenburg assured the public that there was ‘no surprise or gap’ in the federal certification of the MAX despite being aware of contrary information.

‘In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets,’ said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a press release.

‘The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX, despite knowing about serious safety concerns.’

The SEC said both Boeing and Muilenburg, in agreeing to pay the penalties, did not admit or deny the agency’s findings.

Boeing said the agreement ‘fully resolves’ the SEC’s inquiry and is part of the company’s ‘broader effort to responsibly resolve outstanding legal matters related to the 737 MAX accidents in a manner that serves the best interests of our shareholders, employees, and other stakeholders,’ a company spokesman said.

‘We will never forget those lost on Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, and we have made broad and deep changes across our company in response to those accidents.’

The Securities and Exchange commission had previously accused former CEO Dennis Muilenburg of misleading the public about the safety of the 737 MAXes 

Engine parts were scattered near the town of Bishoftu in Ethiopia following the deadly 2019 crash

Investigators had found that the main cause of the two crashes were the MCAS, which were supposed to keep the plane from stalling as it ascended.

Instead, the defective systems forced the nose of the planes downward. The planes were grounded worldwide for 20 months, until Boeing upgraded the system to address this flaw.

Shares of the airline manufacturer fell Thursday following the news, dipping more than 1 percent from a daily high of $209.54 in the early afternoon to trading at just $207.09 by the close of the market.


OCT. 29, 2018 – A Lion Air 737 MAX plane crashes in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board

NOV. 13, 2018 – FAA, Boeing say they are evaluating the need for software or design changes to 737 MAX jets following the Lion Air crash

NOV. 30, 2018 – Boeing is weighing plans to launch a software upgrade for its 737 MAX in six to eight weeks that would help address a scenario faced by crew of Indonesia’s Lion Air, sources told Reuters

MARCH 10, 2019 – An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes, killing all 157 people on board

MARCH 12, 2019 – FAA says will mandate that Boeing implement design changes on the 737 MAX by April that have been in the works for months

MARCH 13, 2019 – FAA joins other major global regulators in grounding the 737 MAX, citing evidence of similarities between the two fatal crashes

APRIL 6, 2019 – Boeing says it will cut monthly 737 MAX production by nearly 20%; U.S. and airline officials say they believe the plane could be grounded for at least two months

MAY 16, 2019 – Boeing says it has completed a software update for its 737 MAX jets and is in the process of submitting a pilot training plan to the FAA

JUNE 27, 2019 – Boeing says it will take until at least September to fix a newly identified problem with software that emerged when FAA test pilots were reviewing potential failure scenarios of the flight control computer in a 737 MAX simulator

JULY 18, 2019 – Boeing says it has assumed regulatory approval of the 737 MAX’s return to service in the United States and other jurisdictions will begin early in the fourth quarter

OCT. 24, 2019 – Boeing says it still expects FAA approval to fly the 737 MAX in the fourth quarter, sending its shares higher despite a slump in quarterly profit. FAA says it will need “several weeks” for review

NOV. 7, 2019 – U.S. and European regulators ask Boeing to revise documentation on its proposed 737 MAX software fix

NOV. 11, 2019 – Boeing says it expects the FAA to issue an order approving the plane’s return to flight in December, forecasting commercial flights to resume in January

NOV. 15, 2019 – The head of the FAA tells his team to ‘take whatever time is needed’ in their review of the 737 MAX

DEC. 11, 2019 – FAA chief Steve Dickson says 737 MAX will not be cleared to fly before the end of 2019

DEC. 12, 2019 – Boeing abandons its goal of winning regulatory approval for the 737 MAX to resume flying in December after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said the plane would not be cleared to fly before 2020

DEC. 23, 2019 – Boeing fires CEO Dennis Muilenburg

JAN. 6, 2020 – An audit conducted in December reveals that wiring in the tail of the 737 MAX could short circuit and lead to a crash if pilots don’t know how to respond correctly

JAN. 9, 2020 – Boeing releases hundreds of internal messages between employees to the Congress and the FAA last week, raising serious questions about its development of simulators and showing employees may have covered up issues

JAN. 13, 2020 – Budget airliner Ryanair reveals it could receive its first deliveries of up to 10 grounded 737 MAX aircraft from Boeing by April, but cautions this will depend on the regulators

JAN. 16, 2020 – Committee, appointed by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao in April, finds the FAA safety approval process was not at fault

JAN. 21, 2020 –  Boeing announces it does not expect federal regulators to approve its changes to the grounded 737 Max until this summer, several months longer than the company was saying just a few weeks ago

NOV. 18, 2020 – The FAA rescinds the order that halted commercial operations of the 737 Max

DEC. 29, 2020 – American Airlines Flight 718, which left Miami around 10:30am and landed after 1pm in New York, becomes the first commercial flight of the Boeing 737 Max 

JAN. 7, 2021 – Boeing agrees to pay more than $2.5 billion in a legal settlement with the Justice Department stemming from the 737 Max debacle. The agreement resolves a criminal charge that Boeing conspired to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates the company and evaluates its planes. Boeing will establish a $500 million fund to compensate the families of those who died and pay a fine of nearly $244 million. The company will also pay $1.77 billion in compensation to its airline customers who were unable to use or take deliveries of the Max, which remains grounded in some parts of the world. 

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