Would you fly in a 737 Max 8 right now?

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Boeing lost hundreds of bad 737 parts: Whistleblower
Author of the article:Bloomberg News
Bloomberg News
Allyson Versprille and Julie Johnsson
Published Jun 18, 2024 • 4 minute read

A Boeing Co. quality inspector alleged that the planemaker mishandled and lost track of hundreds of faulty parts, some of which he said may have been installed on new 737 Max planes, the latest revelation by a whistleblower pointing out possible misconduct at the manufacturer.


The claims were detailed in a June 11 complaint by Boeing inspector Sam Mohawk with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and were made public by a US Senate subcommittee on Tuesday in a memo to members. Boeing said it’s reviewing the claims after receiving the document late on Monday.

As of last year, Boeing had lost as many as 400 faulty 737 Max aircraft parts and deleted records for many of those from an internal cataloging system, according to the complaint. So-called non-conforming parts are damaged or inadequate components that are supposed to be tracked, disposed of or repaired, with meticulous records to ensure they aren’t used in the aircraft manufacturing process.

Mohawk also claimed that Boeing “intentionally hid” some improperly stored large components such as rudders and flaps from the US Federal Aviation Administration ahead of an on-site inspection.


The allegations, which hadn’t previously been made public, add to a series of other whistleblower claims alleging the company has cut corners in its production and quality processes. Some whistleblowers have said they were encouraged to keep silent or were retaliated against for raising concerns.

“We continuously encourage employees to report all concerns as our priority is to ensure the safety of our airplanes and the flying public,” Boeing said in a statement.

Mohawk’s complaint was released by the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on the same day that it plans to hear testimony from Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun, providing fresh lines of inquiry to pursue the embattled leader. The panel opened a probe into the planemaker following a near-catastrophe in January, when a fuselage section blew off a 737 Max shortly after takeoff.


Boeing shares fell 1.8% as of 10:21 a.m. on Tuesday in New York. The stock has lost about a third of its value this year.

Documents and whistleblower accounts collected by the panel thus far “paint a troubling picture of a company that prioritizes speed of manufacturing and cutting costs over ensuring the quality and safety of aircraft,” staff from the panel said in a memo to members.

The FAA said in a statement late Monday that it’s encouraged Boeing employees to come forward with their safety concerns and has seen an uptick in reports since Jan. 5 as a result. The agency disclosed last week that it received more than 11 times as many Boeing whistleblower reports in the first five months of this year compared to all of 2023.


“The FAA strongly encourages anyone with safety concerns to report them,” the agency said. “We thoroughly investigate every report, including allegations uncovered in the Senate’s work.”

The fresh claims deepen the pressure that Boeing faces from Washington. The company is under investigation by multiple federal agencies including the Justice Department. Prosecutors are also weighing whether to charge Boeing after it found the planemaker violated a deal that allowed the company to avoid charges following two fatal 737 Max crashes in 2018 and 2019.

Mohawk claimed that dozens of 737 components were being improperly stored outdoors and that Boeing ordered employees to move the majority of them to another location after receiving a notice from the FAA in June 2023 that the agency would be conducting an on-site inspection. He claims the parts were eventually moved back to the outside location or lost completely.


According to the subcommittee’s memo, non-conforming parts at Boeing are supposed to be marked with a red tag or red paint and held in a secure area of the factory.

The demands on Mohawk’s job monitoring those parts surged after the 737 Max’s worldwide grounding triggered by the two deadly crashes. Mohawk alleged that “the overwhelming number of nonconforming parts eventually led his superiors to direct him and others to eliminate or ‘cancel’ the records that designate a part as nonconforming,” according to the memo.

“Boeing needs to stop thinking about the next earnings call and start thinking about the next generation,” Senator Richard Blumenthal, the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the panel, plans to say at the hearing, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks.


Mohawk claims that he tried to elevate the concerns through Boeing’s internal reporting program called “Speak Up,” but that the report was eventually routed to the same managers he had complained about.

The concerns raised by Mohawk bear similarities to allegations previously raised by the late Boeing whistleblower John Barnett about the production of one of the company’s other flagship aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner. Police concluded in May that Barnett’s death, which occurred amid ongoing litigation with the planemaker, was the result of suicide.

At a previous hearing under Blumenthal in April, Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour also alleged that the company had incorrectly assembled the barrel sections of its 787 model to save time and money, an accusation the company has refuted.
 

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A father who lost 2 sons in a Boeing Max crash waits to hear if the US will prosecute the company
Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
David Koenig
Published Jun 28, 2024 • 5 minute read

Melvin and Bennett Riffel died in the 2019 crash of Boeing 737 Max plane in Ethiopia. Their father Ike Riffel fears that instead of putting Boeing on trial, the U.S. government will offer the company another shot at corporate probation through a legal document called a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA.
Melvin and Bennett Riffel died in the 2019 crash of Boeing 737 Max plane in Ethiopia. Their father Ike Riffel fears that instead of putting Boeing on trial, the U.S. government will offer the company another shot at corporate probation through a legal document called a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA.
As they travel around Alaska on a long-planned vacation, Ike and Susan Riffel stop now and then to put up stickers directing people to “Live Riffully.”


It’s a way for the California couple to honor the memories of their sons, Melvin and Bennett, who died in 2019 when a Boeing 737 Max jetliner crashed in Ethiopia.

The Riffels and families of other passengers who died in the crash and a similar one in Indonesia a little more than four months earlier are waiting to learn any day now whether the U.S. Justice Department, all these years later, will prosecute Boeing in connection with the two disasters, which killed 346 people.

Ike Riffel fears that instead of putting Boeing on trial, the government will offer the company another shot at corporate probation through a legal document called a deferred prosecution agreement, or DPA. Or that prosecutors will let Boeing plead guilty and avoid a trial.


“A DPA hides the truth. A plea agreement would hide the truth,” Riffel says. “It would leave the families with absolutely no idea” of what happened inside Boeing as the Max was being designed and tested, and after the first crash in 2018 pointed to problems with new flight-control software.

“The families want to know the truth. Who was responsible? Who did what?” the father says. “Why did they have to die?”

Ike is a retired forestry consultant, and Susan a retired religious educator. They live in Redding, California, where they raised their sons.

Mel was 29 and preparing to become a father himself when Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 went down six minutes after takeoff. He played sports in school and worked as a technician for the California Department of Transportation in Redding. Bennett, 26, loved performing arts while growing up. He worked in IT support in Chico, California, and clients still send cards to his parents.


“They were our only two sons. They were very adventurous, very independent, loved to travel,” Riffel says.

In early 2019, Mel and his wife, Brittney, took a “babymoon” to Australia. Brittney flew home while Mel met his brother in Taiwan to start what they called their world tour. He and Bennett were headed toward their last stop, South Africa, where Mel planned to do some surfing, when they boarded the Ethiopian Airlines flight in Addis Ababa.

Back in California, Susan Riffel answered the phone when it rang on that Sunday morning. On the other end, someone from the airline told them their sons had been on a plane that had crashed.

“When you first hear it, you don’t believe it,” Ike Riffel says. “You still don’t believe after you see that there was a crash. ‘Oh, maybe they didn’t get on.’ You think of all these scenarios.”


The next shock came in January 2021: The Justice Department charged Boeing with fraud for misleading regulators who approved the Max, but at the same time, prosecutors approved an agreement that meant the single felony charge could be dropped in three years.

“I heard it on the news. It just kind of blew me away. I thought, what the hell?” Riffel says. “I felt pretty powerless. I didn’t know what a deferred prosecution agreement was.”

He and his wife believe they were deceived by the Justice Department, which until then had denied there was a criminal investigation going on. Boeing has never contacted the family, according to Riffel. He assumes that’s based on advice from the company’s lawyers.


“I have no trust in (Boeing) to do the right thing, and I really lost my confidence in the Department of Justice,” he says. “Their motto is to protect the American people, not to protect Boeing, and it seems to me they have spent the whole time defending Boeing.”

The Justice Department reopened the possibility of prosecuting Boeing last month, when it said the company had breached the 2021 agreement. The DOJ did not publicly specify the alleged violations.

Boeing has said it lived up to the terms of the deal, which required it to pay $2.5 billion, most of it to the company’s airline customers, and to maintain a program to detect and prevent violations of U.S. anti-fraud laws, among other conditions.

The pending decision in Washington matters to family members around the world.


The 157 passengers and crew members who died in the Ethiopian crash came from 35 countries, with the largest numbers from Kenya and Canada. Nearly two dozen passengers were flying to attend a United Nations environmental conference in Nairobi.

The March 10, 2019, crash came just months after another Boeing 737 Max 8, operated by Indonesia’s Lion Air, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board. The vast majority of passengers on the Oct. 29, 2018, flight were Indonesians.

In both crashes, software known by the acronym MCAS pitched the nose of the plane down repeatedly based on faulty readings from a single sensor.

Relatives of people on both flights sued Boeing in U.S. federal court in Chicago. Boeing has settled the vast majority of those cases after requiring the families not to disclose how much they were paid.


The Riffels have found strength and purpose in meeting with families of some of the other passengers from Flight 302. Together, they have pressed the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to make sure that aircraft are as safe as possible.

Many of them want the government to prosecute high-ranking Boeing officials, including former CEO Dennis Muilenburg and current chief executive David Calhoun, who was on the company’s board when the crashes occurred. They have asked the Justice Department to fine Boeing more than $24 billion for what one of their lawyers, Paul Cassell, called “the deadliest corporate crime in U.S. history.”

The group of relatives includes Javier de Luis, an aerospace engineer whose sister, Graziella, was on the Ethiopian flight. And Michael Stumo and Nadia Milleron, who lost their daughter, Samya. Canadians Paul Njoroge and Chris and Clariss Moore have made several trips to Washington to implore government officials to move against Boeing and demand safer planes. Njoroge’s wife, three children and mother-in-law were all on the plane, as was the Moores’ daughter, Danielle.

At first, the disparate group of family members connected by emails just to check in on each other. Before long, and especially after meeting face to face, they grew more determined to do more than grieve together; they wanted to make a difference.

“We want to find some meaning in what happened to our loved ones,” Ike Riffel says. “If we can make aviation safer so this doesn’t happen again, then we have had some victories out of this.”
 

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U.S. wants Boeing to plead guilty to fraud over fatal crashes, lawyers say
Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
David Koenig
Published Jun 30, 2024 • Last updated 1 day ago • 4 minute read

The U.S. Justice Department is pushing Boeing to plead guilty to criminal fraud in connection with two deadly plane crashes involving its 737 Max jetliners, according to several people who heard federal prosecutors detail a proposed offer Sunday.


Boeing will have until the end of the coming week to accept or reject the offer, which includes the giant aerospace company agreeing to an independent monitor who would oversee its compliance with anti-fraud laws, they said.

The case stems from the department’s determination that Boeing violated an agreement that was intended to resolve a 2021 charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government. Prosecutors alleged at the time that Boeing misled regulators who approved the 737 Max and set pilot-training requirements to fly the plane. The company blamed two relatively low-level employees for the fraud.

The Justice Department told relatives of some of the 346 people who died in the 2018 and 2019 crashes about the plea offer during a video meeting. The family members, who want Boeing to face a criminal trial and to pay a $24.8-billion fine, reacted angrily. One said prosecutors were gaslighting the families; another shouted at them for several minutes when given a chance to speak.


“We are upset. They should just prosecute,” said Massachusetts resident Nadia Milleron, whose 24-year-old daughter, Samya Stumo, died in the second of two 737 Max crashes. “This is just a reworking of letting Boeing off the hook.”



Prosecutors told the families that if Boeing rejects the plea offer, the Justice Department would seek a trial in the matter, meeting participants said. Justice Department officials presented the offer to Boeing during a meeting later Sunday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

Boeing and the Justice Department declined to comment.


The plea deal would take away the ability of U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor to increase Boeing’s sentence for a conviction, and some of the families plan to ask the Texas judge to reject the deal if Boeing agrees to it.

“The underlying outrageous piece of this deal is that it doesn’t acknowledge that Boeing’s crime killed 346 people,” said Paul Cassell, one of the lawyers for victims’ families. “Boeing is not going to be held accountable for that, and they are not going to admit that that happened.”

Sanjiv Singh, a lawyer for 16 families who lost relatives in the October 2018 Lion Air crash off Indonesia, called the plea offer “extremely disappointing.” The terms, he said, “read to me like a sweetheart deal.”

Another lawyer representing families who are suing Boeing, Mark Lindquist, said he asked the head of the Justice Department’s fraud section, Glenn Leon, whether the department would add additional charges if Boeing turns down the plea deal. “He wouldn’t commit one way or another,” Lindquist said.


The meeting with crash victims’ families came weeks after prosecutors told O’Connor that the American aerospace giant breached the January 2021 deal that had protected Boeing from criminal prosecution in connection with the crashes. The second one took place in Ethiopia less than five months after the one in Indonesia.


A conviction could jeopardize Boeing’s status as a federal contractor, according to some legal experts. The company has large contracts with the Pentagon and NASA.

However, federal agencies can give waivers to companies that are convicted of felonies to keep them eligible for government contracts. Lawyers for the crash victims’ families expect that would be done for Boeing.


Boeing paid a $244-million fine as part of the 2021 settlement of the original fraud charge. The Justice Department is likely to seek another, similar penalty as part of the new plea offer, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing case.

The deal would include a monitor to oversee Boeing — but the company would put forward three nominees and have the Justice Department pick one, or ask Boeing for additional names. That provision was particularly hated by the family members on the call, participants said.

The Justice Department also gave no indication of moving to prosecute any current or former Boeing executives, another long-sought demand of the families.

Lindquist, a former prosecutor, said officials made clear during an earlier meeting that individuals — even CEOs — can be more sympathetic defendants than corporations. The officials pointed to the 2022 acquittal on fraud charges of Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the Max as an example.

It is unclear what impact a plea deal might have on other investigations into Boeing, including those following the blowout of a panel called a door plug from the side of a Boeing Max 9 during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.
 

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Boeing accepts plea deal to avoid criminal trial over 737 Max crashes, Justice Department says
Author of the article:Associated Press
Associated Press
David Koenig And Alanna Durkin Richer
Published Jul 08, 2024 • Last updated 16 hours ago • 5 minute read

Boeing will plead guilty to a criminal fraud charge stemming from two crashes of 737 Max jetliners that killed 346 people, the Justice Department said late Sunday, after the government determined the company violated an agreement that had protected it from prosecution for more than three years.


Federal prosecutors gave Boeing the choice last week of entering a guilty plea and paying a fine as part of its sentence or facing a trial on the felony criminal charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States.

Prosecutors accused the American aerospace giant of deceiving regulators who approved the airplane and pilot-training requirements for it.

The plea deal, which still must receive the approval of a federal judge to take effect, calls for Boeing to pay an additional $243.6 million fine. That was the same amount it paid under the 2021 settlement that the Justice Department said the company breached. An independent monitor would be named to oversee Boeing’s safety and quality procedures for three years. The deal also requires Boeing to invest at least $455 million in its compliance and safety programs.


The plea deal covers only wrongdoing by Boeing before the crashes in Indonesia and in Ethiopia, which killed all 346 passengers and crew members aboard two new Max jets. It does not give Boeing immunity for other incidents, including a panel that blew off a Max jetliner during an Alaska Airlines flight over Oregon in January, a Justice Department official said.

The deal also does not cover any current or former Boeing officials, only the corporation. In a statement, Boeing confirmed it had reached the deal with the Justice Department but had no further comment.

In a filing Sunday night, the Justice Department said it expected to submit the written plea agreement with a U.S. District Court in Texas by July 19. Lawyers for some of the relatives of those who died in the two crashes have said they will ask the judge to reject the agreement.


“This sweetheart deal fails to recognize that because of Boeing’s conspiracy, 346 people died. Through crafty lawyering between Boeing and DOJ, the deadly consequences of Boeing’s crime are being hidden,” said Paul Cassell, a lawyer for some of the families.

Federal prosecutors alleged Boeing committed conspiracy to defraud the government by misleading regulators about a flight-control system that was implicated in the crashes, which took place than less five months apart.

As part of the January 2021 settlement, the Justice Department said it would not prosecute Boeing on the charge if the company complied with certain conditions for three years. Prosecutors last month alleged Boeing had breached the terms of that agreement.


U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor, who has overseen the case from the beginning, has criticized what he called “Boeing’s egregious criminal conduct.” O’Connor could accept the plea and the sentence that prosecutors offered with it or he could reject the agreement, likely leading to new negotiations between the Justice Department and Boeing.

The case goes back to the crashes in Indonesia and in Ethiopia. The Lion Air pilots in the first crash did not know about flight-control software that could push the nose of the plane down without their input. The pilots for Ethiopian Airlines knew about it but were unable to control the plane when the software activated based on information from a faulty sensor.

The Justice Department charged Boeing in 2021 with deceiving FAA regulators about the software, which did not exist in older 737s, and about how much training pilots would need to fly the plane safely. The department agreed not to prosecute Boeing at the time, however, if the company paid a $2.5 billion settlement, including the $243.6 million fine, and took steps to comply with anti-fraud laws for three years.


Boeing, which blamed two low-level employees for misleading the regulators, tried to put the crashes behind it. After grounding Max jets for 20 months, regulators let them fly again after the company reduced the power of the flight software. Max jets logged thousands of safe flights and orders from airlines picked up, increasing to about 750 in 2021, about 700 more in 2022 and nearly 1,000 in 2023.

That changed in January, when a panel covering an unused emergency exit blew off a Max during the Alaska Airlines flight over Oregon.

Pilots landed the 737 Max safely and no one was seriously injured, but the incident led to closer scrutiny of the company. The Justice Department opened a new investigation, the FBI told passengers on the Alaska plane that they might be victims of a crime and the FAA said it was stepping up oversight of Boeing.


A criminal conviction could jeopardize Boeing’s status as a federal contractor, according to some legal experts. The plea announced Sunday does not address that question, leaving it to each government agency whether to bar Boeing.

The Air Force cited “compelling national interest” in letting Boeing continue competing for contracts after the company paid a $615 million fine in 2006 to settle criminal and civil charges, including that it used information stolen from a rival to win a space-launch contract.

The company based in Arlington, Virginia, has 170,000 employees and dozens of airline customers spanning the globe. The best customers for the 737 Max include Southwest, United, American, Alaska, Ryanair and flydubai.


But 37% of its revenue last year came from U.S. government contracts. Most of it was defense work, including military sales that Washington arranged for other countries.

Boeing also makes a capsule for NASA. Two astronauts will remain at the International Space Station longer than expected while Boeing and NASA engineers troubleshoot problems with the propulsion system used to maneuver the capsule.

Even some Boeing critics have worried about crippling a key defense contractor.

“We want Boeing to succeed,” Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, said during a Senate hearing last month on what he termed the company’s broken safety culture. “Boeing needs to succeed for the sake of the jobs it provides, for the sake of local economies it supports, for the sake of the American traveling public, for the sake of our military.”


Relatives of the Max crash victims have pushed for a criminal trial that might illuminate what people inside Boeing knew about deceiving the FAA. They also want the Justice Department to prosecute top Boeing officials, not just the company.

“Boeing has paid fines many a time, and it doesn’t seem to make any change,” said Ike Riffel of Redding, California, whose sons Melvin and Bennett died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash. “When people start going to prison, that’s when you are going to see a change.”

At a recent Senate hearing, Boeing CEO David Calhoun defended the company’s safety record after turning and apologizing to Max crash victims’ relatives seated in the rows behind him “for the grief that we have caused.”

Hours before the hearing, the Senate investigations subcommittee released a 204-page report with new allegations from a whistleblower who said he worried that defective parts could be going into 737s. The whistleblower was the latest in a string of current and former Boeing employees who have raised safety concerns about the company and claimed they faced retaliation as a result.