DOJ Investigating Boeing 737 Max Incident That Led to Passenger Injuries

Naveen Athrappully
By Naveen Athrappully
March 11, 2024US News
DOJ Investigating Boeing 737 Max Incident That Led to Passenger Injuries
A gaping hole where the paneled-over door had been at the fuselage plug area of Alaska Airlines Flight 1282, in Portland, Ore., on Jan. 7, 2024. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating a mishap involving a Boeing plane that occurred in January, with Alaska Airlines confirming the probe.

On Jan. 5, an Alaska Airlines flight made an emergency landing after the door plug of the Boeing 737 Max 9 tore off while the aircraft was flying at 16,000 feet. The incident resulted in some passengers suffering injuries. The airline confirmed that the DOJ is investigating the matter.

“In an event like this, it’s normal for the DOJ to be conducting an investigation. We are fully cooperating and do not believe we are a target of the investigation,” Alaska Airlines said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The DOJ investigation could look into whether Boeing violated a settlement agreement made with the agency in 2021.

Following two crashes involving Boeing 737 Max 8 planes in 2018 and 2019, the FBI and the Transportation Department investigated Boeing. At the time, the aircraft manufacturer admitted its employees deceived the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

One Boeing employee was found to have withheld certain safety details from the FAA. The two accidents resulted in the loss of 346 lives, and the MAX was prohibited from flying for 20 months.

The MAX planes resumed service only in late 2020. In 2021, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to resolve the DOJ investigation. If Boeing is found to have breached the provisions of the 2021 settlement agreement, the DOJ can charge the aircraft maker with defrauding the United States.

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report on the Alaska Airlines incident. The report included a photo of the plane involved in the accident. Three of the four bolts required to prevent the door plug from moving upward were missing, and the location of the fourth bolt was obscured in the photo.

Since there was a lack of certain damage around the panel, investigators concluded that all four bolts should have been missing before the aircraft took off. Due to the lack of bolts, nothing prevented the door plug from sliding upward and detaching from the “stop pads” that secured it to the airframe, according to The Associated Press.

The NTSB did not announce a probable cause of the accident. Such a conclusion will only be made once the investigation is finished, which can take a year or more.

Following the Jan. 5 incident, the FAA grounded all Boeing Max 9 planes, with United Airlines and Alaska Airlines affected by the decision. The planes started getting back into service in late January following inspections.

The DOJ investigation comes as Boeing airplanes have been involved in multiple mishaps this month, including several flights being forced to land due to safety issues.

Boeing Under Scrutiny

In late February, FAA Administrator Mike Whitaker told Boeing officials that the company must develop a comprehensive action plan to address its systemic quality control issues.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” Mr. Whitaker said after his meeting with company officials.

“Making foundational change will require a sustained effort from Boeing’s leadership, and we are going to hold them accountable every step of the way, with mutually understood milestones and expectations,” he added.

On March 4, the FAA said it completed a six-week audit of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems, the sole 737 fuselage supplier to Boeing. The audit found “multiple instances where the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

“The FAA identified non-compliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control,” the agency stated.

Boeing President and CEO Dave Calhoun said the company “will develop the comprehensive action plan with measurable criteria that demonstrates the profound change that Administrator Whitaker and the FAA demand.”

Boeing shares have been declining since the Jan. 5 incident. On Jan. 5, Boeing was trading at $249 a share, which had dropped to around $198.49 as of March 8, a drop of over 20 percent.

That month, Wells Fargo analyst Matthew Akers downgraded Boeing shares in a report titled “FAA audit opens up a whole new can of worms.”

“Boeing has struggled with quality issues for some time, [the] FAA’s audit is limited to MAX 9 for now, but it’s feasible that findings could expand the scope to other MAX models sharing common parts,” Mr. Akers wrote.

“Given Boeing’s recent track record, and greater incentive for FAA to find problems, we think the odds of a clean audit are low,” he added.

In an interview with Business Insider this month, Ed Pierson, a former Boeing senior manager, said he tried to warn Alaska Airlines months before the Jan. 5 incident about potential issues with the Boeing planes.

“There’s lots of red flags that are coming up and saying that your planes could be not safe. And I recommended he ground them,” Mr. Pierson said about his letter to Alaska’s CEO Ben Minicucci in April 2023.

The letter was sent after Mr. Pierson examined the aircraft’s service reports. “We sent a certified return receipt letter, and they just ignored it,” he wrote.

The ex-employee called on shareholders to “get the board out, and get the C-suite out, because they’re crushing the company.”

Mr. Pierson also criticized the FAA for being lax on safety issues, saying that the agency has been “horribly asleep at the wheel here in their oversight responsibilities.”

From The Epoch Times

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