Thursday, April 25

Boeing under DOJ criminal investigation

The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation against Boeing after a panel reviewing one of the company’s plans on an Alaska Airlines flight in early January failed, a person familiar with the matter said.

The airline said it was cooperating with the investigation. “In an event like this, it is appropriate for the DOJ to conduct an investigation,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement. “We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are the target of the investigation.” Boeing had no comment.

On January 5, a panel on a Boeing 737 Max 9 operated by Alaska Airlines exploded in mid-flight, exposing passengers to the outside air thousands of feet above the ground. This incident did not cause any serious injuries, but it could have been catastrophic if the panel had exploded a few minutes later, at a higher altitude.

The panel is known as a “door stopper” and is used to fill a gap left by an unnecessary exit door. A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board suggested the plane could have left the Boeing factory without the cap bolted on.

The criminal investigation was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The Justice Department previously said it was reviewing a 2021 settlement of a federal criminal charge against the company, which stemmed from two fatal crashes aboard its 737 Max 8 aircraft. Under the agreement, Boeing is committed to paying more than $2.5 billion, most of it in compensation to its customers. The Justice Department has agreed to drop charges accusing Boeing of defrauding the Federal Aviation Administration by possessing information relevant to its approval of the Max. It was not immediately clear whether the criminal investigation was linked to the 2021 rule revision or a separate investigation.

The deal was criticized for being too lenient on Boeing and for being reached without consulting the families of the 346 people killed in the crashes. The first took place in Indonesia at the end of 2018. After the second in Ethiopia at the beginning of 2019, the Max was banned from flying worldwide for 20 months. The plane returned to service in late 2020 and has since been used on several million flights, mostly without incident – ​​until the Alaska Airlines flight on January 5.

On Friday, Boeing informed a congressional panel that it had been unable to find a potentially important document detailing its work on the panel, which subsequently blew up.

The company was asked to produce any documentation in its possession relating to the removal and reinstallation of the sign. In a letter to Sen. Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, Boeing said it had conducted extensive research but was unable to find a record of the information sought by the Senate committee and the Senate. safety committee.

“We also shared with the NTSB what has become our working assumption: that the documents required by our processes were not created when the door was opened,” Boeing’s letter reads. “If this assumption is correct, there would be no documentation to produce.”

In the letter, Boeing also said it sent the NTSB all the names of the people on the 737 door crew on March 4, two days after its request.

The door plug was opened in September at Boeing’s Renton, Washington, factory to repair damaged rivets on the plane’s fuselage, according to a document reviewed by The New York Times. Rivets are often used to join and secure parts to plans. The request to open the cap came from contractors working for Spirit AeroSystems, a supplier that makes the body of the 737 Max in Wichita, Kan.

According to the document, in September. On the 18th, a mechanic from Spirit AeroSystems was assigned to begin work to repair the rivets and the door plug was in the process of being opened so that repairs could be made. The document shows the repairs were completed two days later and permission was given to close the door again.

The document contained no details about who was responsible for reinstalling the door stopper or whether it was inspected after it was replaced. It contains no further information about the Boeing employees involved in the removal and replacement of the door plug.

The January 5 flight explosion has once again sparked scrutiny of Boeing’s practices, with politicians publicly criticizing the company. The National Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the incident, but suggested in a preliminary report that Boeing could have delivered the plane to Alaska without installing the necessary bolts to hold the door plug in place.

The FAA has since increased inspections at the factory where Boeing makes the Max and capped the number of projects the company can complete each month. An FAA audit found quality defects at Boeing, and the agency gave the company a few months to develop a plan to improve quality control.

Last month, a panel of experts convened by the FAA released a long-awaited report on the Max accidents. He concluded that Boeing’s safety culture was still lacking, despite improvements in recent years.