DOJ Investigating Boeing Over Door Plug Blowout: Reports

The Justice Department is investigating whether a midflight accident on a Boeing 737 Max 9 plane operated by Alaska Airlines last month runs afoul of a deal the company reached with federal prosecutors in 2021, according to multiple newsreports, as scrutiny of the manufacturing giant continues.

The $2.5 billion agreement announced on Jan. 7, 2021, in the final weeks of the Trump administration, was prompted by two fatal crashes of 737 Max 8 planes in 2018 and 2019 respectively. The company was only charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States at the time, with the DOJ singling out two of its employees for misleading the Federal Aviation Administration about the 737 Max planes.

The deal stipulated that Boeing would have to pay a criminal monetary fine, create a fund to compensate the relatives of the people who died as a result of the two fatal crashes, and also compensate airline passengers. Besides, the company also had to agree to cooperate with the U.S. government for a period of three years, which was set to expire two days after the incident on the Alaska Airlines flight.

The door panel that blew off midair appears to have been missing four bolts that were never replaced following repair work at Boeing’s factory in Renton, Washington, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The incident has reportedly brought the company back under the microscope of federal regulators, who could bring criminal charges against the company if the accident is deemed to violate the 2021 agreement, an unnamed person familiar with the investigation told Bloomberg, which was first to report the news.

According to Bloomberg, the investigation is being led by the department’s fraud section and the U.S. attorney’s office in Seattle, which is the closest location to Boeing’s manufacturing site for 737 planes.

The DOJ declined to comment.

FAA administrator Michael Whittaker on Wednesday told top Boeing officials, including the CEO, that the company needs to come up with a comprehensive plan within 90 days and “commit to real and profound improvements” to resolve its systemic quality-control issues that were raised in a recent expert panel report.

“Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations,” Whittaker said in a statement.

The expert panel review published Monday found a “disconnect” between Boeing’s senior management and other members of the company on safety culture, among other issues.

The Jan. 5 midflight accident led the FAA to ground Max 9 planes for weeks, leading to the cancellation of thousands of flights.