Boeing’s Guilty Plea Lets It Keep Its Secrets

July 8, 2024 / 2 Comments

Capt Yared Getachew flew ill-fated Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

The Department of Justice has agreed to let Boeing plead guilty to one criminal felony charge for its role in two fatal crashes of Boeing 737 Max airplanes that killed 346 people.

At first glance, it may appear that Boeing is facing the consequences for its errant and ultimately lethal behavior and, according to a statement from the DOJ, the deal will protect the public. “Boeing will be required to make historic investments to strengthen and integrate its compliance and safety programs.”

But I wouldn’t get too excited and neither, in fact, are the Max families.

That’s because this guilty plea is a gift to Boeing, wrapped in legal documents and decorated with dollar bills.

With the latest agreement, filed with a Federal judge in Texas on Sunday night, no individual decision-makers at Boeing need to ‘fess up to their roles in the process of deception discovered and documented in several non-judicial investigations conducted over the past five years. It should be noted that these reviews contradict the Department of Justice’s conclusion that the flawed 737 Max, was the result of fraud by just a few low-level workers. The fraud was, the prosecution insisted,  “neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management.”

That rogue employees planted a fatal flaw in Boeing’s best-selling airliner, all by their lonesome wasn’t believable to the Texas jury in the one and only criminal trial resulting from the Max disasters. The defendant, former Boeing technical pilot Mark Forkner was found not guilty after just 2 hours of deliberation. Days of testimony, documents, call logs as well as emails and text messages in Forkner’s trial made it clear there was a lot more intrigue on many levels in the Max’s design and manufacturing problems.

 

“Nobody really believes that Forkner was the only bad actor in this complex pressure for profits, and the scheme to defraud the FAA,” said Michael Stumo whose daughter Samya Rose Stumo died in Ethiopia flight 302. “It shows that Boeing CEO David Calhoun and the former board members will throw anyone under the bus to protect the C-Suite.”

As Stumo and many other victims’ families insist, a trial will give them and the public a fuller set of facts than those details negotiated in secret meetings between the prosecution and the defendant.

“We have these elaborate facts with thousands of people involved, over years of time,” said Peter Reilly, a Texas lawyer specializing in victims’ rights. “You read the reports from the Congress and the Senate and you look at the long history of issues at Boeing and wonder why the charge against the company is so narrowly focused.”

So don’t be distracted by the additional $487 million dollar fine that Boeing will have to pay under the new deal, which still must be approved by a judge. Forget the possibility that Boeing may temporarily lose its ability to do business with the Defense Department. Allowing the company to plead guilty short of a trial is a big fat redaction in the story of what was going on at Boeing during the creation of the Max, and who had a hand in it.

Anyone interested in corporate accountability, honest government and yes, even people thinking of their next trip by air, this deal with the Department of Justice, is anything but just.

 

Categories: Flying Lessons


2 responses to “Boeing’s Guilty Plea Lets It Keep Its Secrets”

  1. Michael Sherber says:

    Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Alaska Airlines incident was that Boeing said they did not have the quality control paperwork for the door that blew out. I know of only two possible explanations for this. Either management had disabled the quality control systems that are required for aerospace manufacturing with their associated paperwork, or they had done the paperwork and spoliated the paperwork to cover up what happened. Either one is terrifying and deserves a far more severe judgement than the tap on the wrist that this settlement represents – if for nothing else to ensure the safety of the public.
    In aerospace manufacturing trust and traceability are everything. If you do not have trust and traceability in your manufacturing processes it is difficult to have adequate safety in your products. Furthermore, without traceability you cannot fully learn the necessary lessons and corrective actions from adverse events like the Alaska Airlines blown out door incident .

  2. Mike Borfitz says:

    Your comment about “rogue employees” not being the culprits is absolutely correct.

    Pay attention to this one thing: Transport airplane regulations are robust and actually have a LOT of safety margin built in, and typically airplane designs add to that margin. When anybody decides to round off a corner or nibble away a bit of the design or skip that inspection, they can frequently get away with it because of that margin. Problem is, there’s no trail of breadcrumbs that will take them back, and 2, 3, 70 individuals do it and nobody knows what the others are doing and it’s OK. Finally the whole thing is gray, there’s overlap of cut corners and nobody knows what might be happening to the big picture but there’s a permission structure in place that in Boeing’s case killed a bunch of people. It’s downright maddening.

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