Families of Boeing 737 Max crashes ask for ‘independent monitor’

Families who lost loved ones in two deadly Boeing 737 Max plane crashes asked a U.S. district judge to appoint an independent monitor to track the company’s progress in improving its safety culture.

The monitor, an outside aviation expert not affiliated with Boeing, would spend five years reviewing and suggesting changes to the plane maker’s safety and quality assurance processes, according to a proposal lawyers representing the families presented Monday. before a federal district court.

“Boeing’s lack of comprehensive and transparent safety efforts requires an aggressive response,” Paul Cassell, a law professor at the University of Utah and an attorney representing several of the families, said in a statement. “Only an independent, judicially appointed monitor can restore Boeing’s credibility and implement the safety measures the flying public deserves.”

The motion comes as families wait for the Justice Department to determine whether it will prosecute Boeing on fraud charges following the two Max crashes that killed a total of 346 people in 2018 and 2019.

Those charges have been on hold since Boeing and federal prosecutors signed an agreement in 2021 that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution if it met certain conditions over the next three years.

In May, the Justice Department determined that Boeing had violated the terms of that agreement, opening the door for federal prosecutors to reconsider bringing criminal charges against the company.

It is not yet clear what the Justice Department will do next, although it is expected to make a decision by July 7. In recent days, media outlets have reported conflicting information about what to expect. The New York Times wrote on Friday that the Justice Department was considering allowing Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution. Reuters and The Washington Post have since reported that federal prosecutors are recommending criminal charges. All three reports are based on anonymous sources.

The Justice Department said Friday that it had not yet made a decision.

This is not the first time lawyers representing victims’ families have sought an independent monitor to track Boeing’s progress. A federal district judge in Texas, where the deferred prosecution agreement was entered into, denied the request in 2023 because there was no evidence that Boeing posed a threat to public safety.

That is no longer the case, lawyers for the victims’ families argued in court papers Monday.

Lawyers pointed to recent safety incidents, including a panel that blew up a 737 Max 9 plane mid-flight in January, and recent allegations from whistleblowers that the company was not prioritizing safety in its factories. The lawyers also cited statements by Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun at a recent congressional hearing where the executive said he was “proud” of the company’s safety records and actions.

Those lawyers suggested that Javier de Luis, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, could act as a monitor. De Luis lost his sister, Graziella, when a Boeing 737 Max plane crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019. That accident occurred just months after another Boeing 737 Max crashed in Indonesia in October 2018.

De Luis was part of a panel of experts convened by the Federal Aviation Administration to study Boeing’s safety culture after the fatal Max crashes. In a report released in February, the panel found that Boeing’s push to improve its safety culture has not taken hold at all levels of the company and that Boeing needs to make substantial improvements.

Although details could change following responses from Boeing and the Justice Department, the proposed independent monitor would review several aspects of Boeing’s safety culture and manufacturing process, according to court documents filed Monday. Among those listed, the monitor would track how often planes were grounded for more than 12 hours due to mechanical defects, how often suppliers struggled to make on-time deliveries and how often Boeing moved planes along the factory line with incomplete jobs.

The proposed order would also require Boeing to establish a telephone line for employees to anonymously contact the monitor about concerns or misconduct.

Last week, in a letter to the Justice Department, Cassell asked federal prosecutors to move quickly to prosecute the company and fine Boeing $24.8 billion. The sum is justified “because the Boeing crime is the deadliest corporate crime in American history,” Cassell wrote.

Boeing did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. The company previously said it believes it has met its obligations under the deferred prosecution agreement and will continue to “work transparently” with the Justice Department.

Boeing would pay for the independent monitor, according to the proposal presented Monday.

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