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Boeing to be Arraigned on Criminal Charges for 737 MAX Crashes

Representatives of the aircraft manufacturer will appear in front of federal judges next week, with charges brought against the firm relating to two fatal 737 MAX accidents in 2018 and 2019

by Fergus Cole

January 20, 2023

Photo: Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has been ordered to appear in court next week to face felony charges related to two fatal crashes involving its 737 MAX planes.

The U.S. aviation giant, along with its former chief executive Dennis A. Muilenburg, was charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in September 2022, having been accused of making misleading statements to the public about the safety of its 737 MAX aircraft. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor has ordered Boeing executives to appear in court on January 26.

The arraignment comes after families of the 350 people killed in two separate plane crashes in 2018 and 2019 objected to a plea deal. The manufacturer had initially gained immunity from criminal prosecution after a $2.5 billion agreement with the DOJ, instead being charged with fraud conspiracy. However, Judge O’Connor ruled that the victims of the 737 MAX accidents could legally be considered ‘crime victims.’ As a result, Boeing will now be tried on felony charges.

The first accident involving a Boeing 737 MAX occurred on Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia in October 2018, taking the lives of all 189 people onboard.

Photo: Lion Air, Boeing 737 MAX 10 illustration. Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Following that fatal tragedy, Boeing issued a press release edited and signed off by Muilenburg, which cherry-picked parts of a report by the Indonesian government suggesting human error and poor aircraft maintenance was responsible for the crash. However, it failed to mention concerns in its internal safety report, highlighting safety issues related to the aircraft’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Muilenburg reassured that the 737 MAX was “as safe as any airplane that has ever flown the skies.”

But just months later, another Boeing 737 MAX—Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302—crashed six minutes after taking off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD) in March 2019, killing all 149 passengers and crew onboard.

Following this second accident, which again was blamed on the plane’s MCAS, all Boeing 737 MAX planes were grounded worldwide for almost two years. Some governments prohibited using the aircraft for even longer, with China only allowing them back on domestic flights last week.

Photo: Boeing 737 MAX 10 / Courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes

“There are no words to describe the tragic loss of life brought about by these two airplane crashes,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in a press release. “In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets.”

“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,” said Gensler.

“The SEC remains committed to rooting out misconduct when public companies and their executives fail to fulfill their fundamental obligations to the investing public.”