Thursday, July 25, 2024

Boeing Plea Deal Sounds Like A Slap On The Wrist

The aviation industry as a whole has been under scrutiny lately for changing its hiring practices to highlight DEI over merit. Still, none has experienced more negative headlines than Boeing because of a series of issues.

The bulk of the problems center around the Boeing 737 MAX jetliners, but general maintenance issues have also plagued the manufacturer. In addition, over the past six months, two whistleblowers have died suddenly, one with a rare infection and another by suspected suicide.

Boeing’s problems have even reached space as their Starliner spacecraft has kept astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams at the International space station for much longer than intended. After numerous delays, all systems were finally “go,” and Starliner’s launch went off without a hitch on June 5.

However, as they approached the ISS, new problems appeared. Five of 28 “Reaction Control System” thrusters aboard Starliner’s service module shut themselves down unexpectedly, and the spacecraft was left holding just outside the docking port while engineers did some troubleshooting.

Eventually, the spacecraft successfully docked with the space station, and four thrusters were brought back online. However, NASA later disclosed that it had found four additional helium leaks in different parts of the spacecraft, bringing the total to five. NASA now states that additional testing and evaluation of these issues are necessary before Williams and Wilmore can return to Earth.

Last week, Boeing was in court and pleaded guilty to a criminal fraud charge related to two deadly crashes of 737 MAX jetliners. The government found that the company violated an agreement that had shielded it from prosecution for over three years, per the Justice Department’s announcement on Sunday night.

Federal prosecutors offered Boeing the option 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 have accused Boeing of deceiving regulators who approved the airplane and pilot-training requirements for it.

The plea deal, which still needs approval from a federal judge to take effect, requires Boeing to pay an additional $243.6 million in fines. The same amount as what the company paid under the 2021 settlement, which the Justice Department stated that the company breached. In addition, an independent monitor will be named to oversee Boeing’s safety and quality procedures for three years.

The plea deal only applies to the wrongdoing committed by Boeing before the crashes, which claimed the lives of all 346 passengers and crew members aboard two new MAX jets. Federal prosecutors alleged that Boeing committed conspiracy to defraud the government by misleading regulators about a flight-control system that was implicated in the crashes. The crashes occurred in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia less than five months later.

According to a Justice Department official, it does not grant Boeing immunity for other incidents, such as the recent case involving a panel detaching from a MAX jetliner during an Alaska Airlines flight in January. It also doesn’t cover any former or current individuals, just the corporation.

In the January 2021 settlement agreed upon, the Justice Department stated that it would not prosecute Boeing if the company complied with certain conditions for three years.

However, last month, prosecutors alleged that the company had breached the terms of the agreement. After pleading guilty, the company’s plea will be entered into the U.S. District Court in Texas.

The judge overseeing the case, who has criticized what he called “Boeing’s egregious criminal conduct,” could accept the plea and the sentence that prosecutors offered or reject the agreement, leading to new negotiations between the Justice Department and Boeing.

The relatives of those who perished in the crashes were told of the offer last week and urged the judge to reject it.

Personally, I agree with the families. A $243.6 million fine for breaching an agreement is not enough of a penalty for Boeing. A firm that has continued down the same path of inconsistent safety measures and questionable hiring processes.

This amounts to nothing more than a slap on the wrist for Boeing. The company’s disregard for the previous agreement speaks volumes about its intentions moving forward.

U.S. agencies can use a criminal conviction as grounds to exclude companies from doing business with the government for a set amount of time. Until Boeing changes its manner of operations, it seems like a much more suitable punishment.

Boeing planes are used on approximately 42 percent of all commercial flights, which places the traveling public in danger. Strict oversight of this company is necessary, or the airline industry will be at risk.

Travelers are already nervous about flying in Boeing planes. There is a saying making the rounds that has been printed on T-shirts.

“If It’s Boeing, I Ain’t Going”