Saturday, May 18

Boeing Faces Justice Dept. Review Over Max 9 Incident

The Justice Department is reviewing whether an early January incident in which a part of a Boeing plane blew out in midflight violated a 2021 agreement to settle a criminal charge against the company, according to a person familiar with the review.

Boeing agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to settle the charge, which stemmed from two fatal crashes of its 737 Max 8 planes. The deal, reached in the final weeks of the Trump administration, was criticized at the time as being too lenient on the company.

Under the terms, Boeing agreed to compensate the families of the crash victims as well as the airlines affected by the grounding of the planes. The Justice Department agreed to drop a criminal charge that was based on the actions of two employees who had withheld information from the F.A.A.

Last month, a panel in the fuselage of a larger Max 9 blew out at an altitude of 16,000 feet shortly after takeoff from Portland, Ore., exposing passengers to deafening wind. There were no serious injuries, but the incident could have been catastrophic had it occurred minutes later, at a higher altitude. The panel is known as a “door plug,” which is used to cover a gap left by an unneeded exit door.

The Justice Department review was reported earlier by Bloomberg.

The episode in January reignited the intense scrutiny and criticism that Boeing faced after crashes in Indonesia in late 2018 and Ethiopia in early 2019 killed a combined 346 people. The Max 8 and Max 9 were banned from flying globally days after the second crash. Since the jetliners started flying again in late 2020, they have carried out several million flights worldwide.

The weight of the crisis appeared to be lifting before the January incident. A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board suggested that the plane in that episode may have left Boeing’s factory without bolts needed to secure the panel. The Federal Aviation Administration immediately grounded nearly 200 Max 9 jets in the United States, pending inspections. Flights using the plane have since resumed.

The F.A.A. also increased inspections of the Washington State factory where Boeing makes the Max. On Wednesday, the agency gave the company 90 days to put together a plan to improve quality control.

“Boeing must commit to real and profound improvements,” the F.A.A.’s administrator, Mike Whitaker, said in a statement announcing the deadline. “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.”

Earlier in the week, a group of F.A.A. experts released a long-awaited report stemming from the Max crashes, and it found that Boeing’s safety culture was still lacking, despite improvements in recent years.