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Aviation lawyer sets out the key issues facing Boeing as safety concerns continue to surround aircraft giant

Boeing, the aerospace giant, has once again found itself at the centre of a significant legal dispute. The Department of Justice (DoJ) Fraud Section filed a lawsuit against the company in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas in January 2021. The charge? “Conspiracy to defraud the United States.” 

On the same day, the US government filed the parties’ deferred prosecution agreement (“DPA”), which the court approved. The DoJ and Boeing agreed a behind the scenes deal (the DPA), whereby the prosecutor suspended the criminal charges, allowing them to be resolved without proceeding to trial, provided that Boeing complied with certain conditions over the subsequent three years.  

Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max tragedies

The criminal charges arose from the tragedies involving Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in which a total of 346 people were killed. Both were Boeing 737 Max manufactured aircraft.  

None of the bereaved families were consulted regarding the nature of the criminal charges to be brought, nor about the terms of the DPA. 

There are grave concerns that the safety culture at Boeing has still not significantly improved. 

The DoJ found on May 14, 2024, that there was evidence that Boeing had breached the terms of the DPA, opening the company up to further criminal prosecution. 

Lawyers support those affected by Boeing crashes

Irwin Mitchell represented several families at the UK inquest into the death of their loved ones in July 2023 when a coroner found that the English passengers on board Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 had been unlawfully killed. We continue to support families affected by this tragedy in relation to the ongoing DPA challenge in the United States. 

Deferred Prosecution Agreement 

The DOJ agreed to defer prosecution of Boeing under specific terms and conditions. Boeing’s compliance with the DPA would then determine whether it was to face further legal consequences.

US Department of Justice’s determination

The DoJ, along with the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas, has recently assessed Boeing’s compliance. They found that Boeing had breached its obligations under the DPA. This breach will lead to further legal scrutiny by the DoJ and potential consequences. The families are waiting to hear what those consequences will be.

Corporate compliance programme

Boeing was required to implement a comprehensive compliance and ethics programme. The programme was aimed to prevent and detect violations of US fraud laws across all its operations. It covered not only Boeing but also its subsidiaries, affiliates, agents, joint ventures, contractors, and subcontractors. 

The company was to review its internal controls, policies, and procedures related to fraud laws. Adjustments were required to be made as necessary to maintain an effective system of internal controls.

Commitment to compliance

Boeing’s directors and senior management were expected to provide strong, explicit support for the company’s anti-fraud policy. Middle management was to play a crucial role in reinforcing these standards. Employees were supposed to be encouraged to abide by ethical guidelines, fostering a culture of compliance.

Recent safety issues

The DoJ has promised to involve the families in its ongoing investigations. Boeing is under scrutiny at the moment – not just because of breaches of the DPA – but also due to a number of recent and additional safety breaches. 

Alaska Airlines Flight 1282

On a routine flight from Portland, Oregon, to Ontario, California, on 5 January, 2024, Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 experienced a dramatic technical failure

Shortly after take-off, an unused cabin door broke away from the aircraft. This door was known as a “door plug” and was used to fill an emergency exit that was built into the plane but not needed by Alaska Airlines. The sudden breakage caused the cabin to abruptly depressurize, resulting in a rush of air that ripped off the flight crew’s headsets and sent phones and other items flying out of the plane.

The aircraft involved was a new Boeing 737 Max 9, delivered to Alaska Airlines on October 31, 2023. Normal wear and tear or maintenance failures are unlikely to have affected such a new aircraft.

Garuda-1105 flight to Madinah

A Boeing 747-400 caught fire shortly after take-off on its flight from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia on 15 May, 2024. The incident occurred at the Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport in the city of Makassar. 

Video footage from multiple angles shows the right wing of the aircraft briefly igniting into flames as it accelerated down the runway. Bystanders watched in alarm as the plane successfully ascended off the ground. The pilot immediately abandoned flight plans and returned the plane to the airport for safety investigations. 

The aircraft, operated by Garuda Indonesia, was carrying approximately 468 passengers and was headed for Saudi Arabia. Fortunately, no passengers or crew members were harmed during the incident

“Structural failings” in the 787 Dreamliner

On 17 April, 2024, a whistleblower and Boeing engineer Sam Salehpour, testified before the US Senate about the structural integrity of Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner planes. He said that there were “alarming and dangerous manufacturing deficiencies” that could lead to “potentially catastrophic” incidents for the 787 Dreamliner and the 777, two of Boeing’s largest aircraft. 

He claimed that changes to the construction process introduced shortcuts that led to improper fastening of parts in the plane’s fuselage. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is investigating these claims, while Boeing strongly disputes them.

Disconnect in safety management systems

A recent report for the US government highlighted serious concerns about Boeing’s safety management systems. The review found a “disconnect” between senior management and regular staff, indicating that safety-related messages and behaviours were not effectively implemented across the company.

737 Max Crashes and potential prosecutions

Boeing faced significant scrutiny following the crashes of its 737 Max planes in Ethiopia and Indonesia. Investigations revealed undisclosed software (the “MCAS” system) and regulatory oversight as contributing factors.

These safety issues have put Boeing under immense pressure to address its safety protocols and seek to regain public trust.


Boeing’s legal journey highlights the importance of corporate responsibility, compliance, and the consequences of breaching fundamental safety requirements in an industry which is utterly reliant upon obtaining and maintaining the trust of the travelling public all over the world. 

As the case unfolds, the aviation industry and legal experts closely watch how Boeing addresses its compliance issues. But one thing is clear – Boeing has much to do.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by air safety issues at our dedicated aviation claims section.