Families of Boeing victims urge court to impose corporate monitor

Attorneys representing some of the families of those killed in two Boeing 737 Max crashes argued in a court filing Monday that there should be an independent corporate monitor to look over the company as it faces rising concerns over product safety.

The filing is tied to a pair of fatal crashes related to defects in the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, killing nearly 350 people in 2018 and 2019. The Department of Justice reached a prosecution deferment agreement with Boeing over claims of fraud in 2021, though it said last month that Boeing is now in violation of that agreement, which it disputes.

Citing a pair of tense Senate hearings into Boeing’s safety culture earlier this year, the attorneys argue that a federal judge in Texas now has more than enough evidence to go back on a ruling last year not to establish such a monitor.

“This new, reliable, and ever-expanding body of deeply troubling information should change the Court’s earlier conclusion that ‘no factual record exists’ that would justify a finding that ‘Boeing— while subject to the Government’s continued supervision — currently presents an ongoing threat to public safety ….’” the attorneys argued. “This new information provides ample basis to make such a finding today.”

Senators grilled Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun during a Homeland Security subcommittee hearing last week about the Department of Justice agreement and other safety concerns with the airline.

“I think the truth is, Mr. Calhoun, you’re not focused safety, you’re not focused on quality, you’re not focused on transparency,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) said in the hearing. “All of this is in the record, but I think actually you’re focused on exactly what you were hired to do, which is, that you are cutting corners, you are eliminating safety procedures, you are sticking it to your employees, you are cutting back jobs, because you are trying to squeeze every piece of profit you can out of this company.”

The families argued that an independent corporate monitor would “restore public confidence in Boeing’s safety.” They recommended appointing Massachusetts Institute of Technology aeronautics lecturer Javier de Luis as the monitor, who has previously served on the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) panel investigating Boeing’s safety culture.

The filing comes as the Justice Department considers criminal charges against the company for its alleged violation of the agreement. Reuters reported Sunday that DOJ prosecutors have recommended charges, though a final decision has not yet been made.

The looming question of prosecution adds to an ongoing crisis at Boeing over aircraft safety. The company has been reeling since January when a 737 Max 9 aircraft door blew out mid-flight. Nobody was injured, but the incident grounded all similar planes and sparked a massive FAA investigation.

The investigation found lax safety checks and manufacturing errors in Boeing’s build process, and the company has since faced pressure from regulators and Congress to address the issues.

“There are issues around the safety culture in Boeing. Their priorities have been focused on production and not on safety and quality,” FAA Administrator Michael Whittaker said in March. “And so, what we are really focused on now is shifting that focus from production to safety and quality.”

The FAA said its six-week audit of Boeing found “multiple instances when the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements.”

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