Boeing has agreed to a deal with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) that will see it plead guilty to a charge relating to the fatal crashes of 737 MAX aircraft in 2018 and 2019. 

The troubled aircraft manufacturer will enter a guilty plea to a charge of conspiring to defraud the government after the DoJ decided the company’s recent quality control issues had violated a deferred prosecution agreement made in 2021. 

The news came only hours before a deadline given to Boeing by the DoJ to decide between a plea deal and a fine or going to a trial after prosecutors recommended criminal charges were brought against the company. 

While not commenting on the exact details, a Boeing spokesperson confirmed a deal had been made to Airport Technology but added it was “subject to the memorialisation and approval of specific terms.” 

However, according to court documents, the deal will see Boeing pay a penalty of $487.2m, on top of the $2.5bn paid out under the initial agreement, agree to increased oversight by an independent monitor, and organise a meeting between its board of directors and the families of crash victims. 

Additionally, the agreement, if approved by the court, will compel the company to spend at least $455m to strengthen its compliance and safety programmes and see it placed on supervised probation for around three years. 

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While the DoJ’s decision to bring charges now stems from the manufacturer’s recent series of safety incidents and failures in quality control during aircraft production, the actual criminal charge relates to two 737 MAX crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia which killed 346 people. 

The fatal incidents, which led to 737 MAX aircraft around the world being grounded for 20 months, were both linked to a specific safety system that Boeing had failed to disclose an issue with during the approval process for the aircraft model. 

Following the crashes, it was found that the company had withheld information from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about the Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System, including an issue that saw the system push down the nose of a plane without allowing time for pilots to respond. 

In addition to instigating the DoJ’s initial investigation, the discovery also led to the FAA changing its aircraft certification policies to increase the transparency around flight control systems. 

The families of the crash victims have long called for charges to be brought against Boeing over the issue and CEO Dave Calhoun, who will step down at the end of the year, recently apologised to families during a US Senate hearing but refuted claims that the company knew the issue would lead to a crash.