US sanctions Boeing for sharing information about 737 Max 9 investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Boeing is being sanctioned by U.S. investigators for sharing information about a federal investigation of a door plug blowout that left a gaping hole in a Boeing 737 Max 9.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday that Boeing “blatantly violated” the agency’s investigative regulations as well as a signed agreement by providing non-public investigative information to the media and speculating about possible causes of the Jan. 5 door plug blowout on a Boeing passenger jet in Portland, Oregon.

During the incident, a panel that plugged a space left for an extra emergency door blew off an Alaska Airlines Max 9. Pilots were able to land safely, and there were no injuries.

The NTSB said that during a media briefing on Tuesday, a Boeing executive provided non-public investigative information to journalists about the Alaska Airlines incident that the agency had not verified or authorized for release.

The agency said Boeing portrayed the investigation as a search to find the individual responsible for the door plug work, but the NTSB said it’s focused on the probable cause of the accident, not placing blame on any individual or assessing liability.

Boeing said in a statement on Thursday that it deeply regretted that some of the statements made at the media briefing overstepped the NTSB’s role as the source of investigative information.

“We apologize to the NTSB and stand ready to answer any questions as the agency continues its investigation,” it said.

Shares of The Boeing Co., based in Arlington, Virginia, rose more than 2% in morning trading.

The NTSB said that given its recent actions, Boeing won’t have access to investigative information the agency produces about the Alaska Airlines incident, but it will keep its party status to the investigation.

The NTSB is unable to fine Boeing, as it doesn’t have enforcement authority. While the agency could have stripped away Boeing’s party status, the NTSB may have considered it more important to keep Boeing as a party to the investigation because of its employees’ expertise.

The NTSB said that it may subpoena any relevant records it requires during the course of the investigation. It also will subpoena Boeing to appear at an investigative hearing in Washington D.C. on Aug. 6 and 7. The agency said that, unlike other parties, Boeing won’t be able to ask questions of other participants.

The NTSB said that it will coordinate with the Department of Justice’s Fraud Division, giving them information about Boeing’s recent unauthorized investigative information releases related to the 737 Max 9 door plug investigation.

In May the Justice Department told a federal judge that Boeing had violated a settlement that allowed the company to avoid criminal prosecution after two deadly crashes involving its 737 Max aircraft.

After Max jets crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia, killing 346 people, the FAA and other regulators grounded the aircraft worldwide for more than a year and a half.

It is now up to the Justice Department to decide whether to file charges against Boeing. Prosecutors will tell the court no later than July 7 how they plan to proceed, the department said in May.

Boeing has been under intense scrutiny of late. Earlier this month, CEO David Calhoun defended the company’s safety record during a contentious Senate hearing, while lawmakers accused him of placing profits over safety, failing to protect whistleblowers, and even getting paid too much.

There has been pressure on Calhoun to resign immediately, but he has no plans to do so. Calhoun previously announced that he will step down by the end of 2024.


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