Lock ‘Em Up!

Who knows? Maybe, just maybe, a group of corporate managers and their lackeys will actually have to spend time in prison for killing people, instead of just reaching into company coffers and paying a fine. If that does happen to the Boeing villains, it might save a lot of lives.

Boeing negotiated an agreement with federal prosecutors allowing it to pay a fine of $2.5 billion instead of being prosecuted for killing the 300 passengers who didn’t know they were flying in a plane, the 737 Max that its makers knew was going to crash sooner or later, and probably sooner. The families of the victims of that crash opposed the settlement on the grounds that the government violated their rights by agreeing to it without consulting them first. U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled last year that the victims were victims of a deadly crime so the government should have consulted with their heirs. This week, Judge O’Connor specifically ordered Boeing to present representatives for a criminal arraignment, meaning that he has rejected the settlement, and that there will be criminal charges after all.


Ethics Alarms has offered several posts about the 737 Max scandal. The most recent was in September’s “Observations On ‘Flight/Risk’…And Related Matters.”,which concluded,

Late in the documentary, we see a clip from a Senate hearing on the fiasco in 2020.  We have learned, by now, that a study done by the FAA on the fatal feature of the Boeing plane before it was manufactured estimated that 15 planes would crash over the life of the fleet, yet the plane was certified to fly anyway. Asked by Senator Cruz if Boeing and the FAA made “mistakes” that resulted in hundreds of deaths, the agency’s chief says, “Mistakes were made, yes.” Cruz immediately reminds him that the passive voice is how the government ducks responsibility, and asks, in sequence, “Has anyone been fired?” “Has anyone been demoted?” “Has anyone been disciplined?” The answer to all of these is, “No.”

He didn’t ask, “Has anyone gone to jail?” but the answer would have been the same. There appears to be a chance, at least, that some Boeing executives may go to jail; no FAA regulators will, however, despite their complicity in letting Boeing gamble with the lives of human beings in hopes of saving some money.

We need to do something about that.

10 thoughts on “Lock ‘Em Up!

        • I don’t think that’s the case, Michael. I’m going to assume this would be some sort of negligent homicide or manslaughter prosecution. I don’t think “the regulators let me do it” would be a viable defense. The regulators might even be brought in as unindicted coconspirators if someone wanted to throw in a conspiracy charge which, come to think of it, might be the best route for the government to take.

          • Criminal defense attorneys would argue that we need to be able to rely on the permission of government regulators, that we should not face prosecution if our actions conformed to federal regulations as interpreted by federal regulators. That argument could resonate with the jury.

  1. Thanks for posting this. I remember the crashes when they occurred and recall that there were serious flaws with the 737 Max. What I didn’t realize was how many people – many in places of authority and possessed with power to halt things – knew about the problems BEFORE the planes ever left the ground. I went back and read your previous posts again as a refresher.

    It seems right to pursue prosecution. It’s one thing to have a design flaw that comes to light after production. We are very familiar with auto recalls and such to fix things discovered after-the-fact. But to knowingly allow a potentially fatal issue – especially in a vehicle capable of killing hundreds of people in a moment – goes far beyond human error. That is recklessly criminal.

    A question: are FAA personnel immune from prosecution?

  2. According to an airline pilot friend, pilots were simply not informed of what the anti-stall system would do. As a result, they’d have no idea what was happening when the system took control of the plane, never mind how to counter-act it. He was livid.

  3. According to this (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/23/business/boeing-737-max-crash.html) and other articles, Boeing was trying to design a new version of the 737 that would be competitive with a more fuel-efficient Airbus A320. However, Boeing designers were directed not to make any changes that would require additional pilot training (i.e. training costs airlines money).

    So Boeing changed the design & capabilities of the 737, but they claimed the changes were not enough to require additional training. And, as OB said, the pilots were unaware of how the changes had affected how the 737Max flew.

    I’m not an ethicist, but that sure sounds like someone (or several someones) up the Boeing management food chain consciously committed an ethics violation. And that person (or those persons) should do some real PMITA prison time.

    • They wanted to hang larger, more powerful and efficient engines off the existing 737 airframe. But the additional power of the engines hanging even further below the wings put a major upward bias on the plane when it was climbing under power. My understanding is the Boeing people decided they could simply put in a patch, a program that, based on data from various sensors, would push the plane’s nose down if the program sensed the plane was pitching up (which they knew would happen), thus preventing a stall. But the sensors didn’t sense and/or the program didn’t program, and the pilots had no way to override the acute nose down inputs the program was making. Nose down into the ground.

      • Recall, the original 737s had engines hung below but as close to the bottom of the wing as was possible. Gee. I wonder why.

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