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A Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft piloted by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Chief Steve Dickson lands during an evaluation flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, U.S. September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

MONEY & BUSINESS: NTSB sanctions Boeing over release of 737 MAX investigation details – One America News Network

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June 27, 2024 – 6:22 AM PDT

REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

WASHINGTON/SEATTLE (Reuters) – The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Thursday it was sanctioning Boeing (BA.N) for disclosing non-public details of an ongoing investigation into a 737 MAX mid-air emergency and would refer its conduct to the Justice Department.


The NTSB said Boeing had “blatantly violated” the agency’s investigative regulations by providing “non-public investigative information to the media” and speculating about possible causes of the Jan. 5 Alaska Airlines (ALK.N) door plug blowout.

The move by Boeing has further deepened the strain between the crisis-hit planemaker and government agencies at a time when it is trying to avoid criminal charges being weighed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) ahead of a July 7 deadline.

The NTSB said Boeing would keep its status as a party to the investigation into the Alaska Airlines emergency but would no longer see unpublished information produced during its probe into the accident, which the NTSB has previously said involved the mid-air blowout of a door plug with four missing bolts.

Industry experts say barring a manufacturer restricts its ability to access and offer suggestions to an investigation, but frees it to defend its technology and practices more openly.

“As a party to many NTSB investigations over the past decades, few entities know the rules better than Boeing,” the NTSB said.

Boeing did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The NTSB said the alleged violation of its protocols took place during a media briefing about quality improvements at its commercial airplanes division on Tuesday in Washington State.

“A Boeing executive provided investigative information and gave an analysis of factual information previously released,” the agency said. “Both of these actions are prohibited by the party agreement that Boeing signed.”

During the briefing, which was held on Tuesday under an embargo allowing contents to be published on Thursday, a senior Boeing executive said the plug had been opened on the assembly line without the correct paperwork to fix a quality issue with surrounding rivets, and that missing bolts were not replaced.

The team that came in and closed the plug was not responsible for reinstalling the bolts, Elizabeth Lund, Boeing’s senior vice president of quality, added.

The NTSB said that Boeing had provided it with a transcript revealing that it had provided non-public information.

“Boeing offered opinions and analysis on factors it suggested were causal to the accident,” it added.


In May, the DOJ said Boeing had violated a 2021 settlement with prosecutors that shielded it from criminal charges over interactions with the Federal Aviation Administration prior to MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people.

U.S. prosecutors have recommended criminal charges be brought against Boeing after finding it violated the deferred prosecution agreement, Reuters reported on Sunday.

The DOJ has a separate criminal probe into the MAX 9 door plug emergency.

Thursday’s unusual move by the NTSB marks the latest sign of strains between Boeing and the agency.

In March, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said at a U.S. Senate hearing that Boeing had failed to provide the names of employees on its 737 MAX door team for two months, drawing criticism from lawmakers. Boeing then quickly provided the names.

The NTSB said on Thursday that Boeing had portrayed its investigation to media as a search to locate the individual responsible for the door plug work.

“The NTSB is instead focused on the probable cause of the accident, not placing blame on any individual or assessing liability,” the agency said.

The planemaker will not be allowed to ask questions of other participants at an investigative hearing on August 6-7, whereas other participants at the hearing will be allowed to do so.

The criticism of Boeing came after Homendy said on Tuesday that railroad operator Norfolk Southern (NSC.N) threatened the board, sought to manufacture evidence and failed to provide documents during its investigation of a 2023 Ohio derailment.

Under global rules, national agencies carry out civil probes into air accidents for the sole purpose of finding the cause and making recommendations to improve safety in future. Such actions are separate from any judicial probes seeking to attribute blame.

The NTSB, which applies similar rules to other forms of transportation, has occasionally revoked access for outside parties, though such interventions remain rare.

In 2013, the NTSB told United Parcel Service (UPS.N) and its pilots union they could no longer take part in the investigation of a crash in Alabama that killed two UPS pilots.

In 2018, the agency removed Tesla as a party to an investigation into a fatal crash involving a vehicle’s “Autopilot” system. Tesla said it had already decided to withdraw and accused the NTSB of violating its own rules.

Reporting by David Shepardson, ALlison Lampert, Tim Hepher; Editing by Jason Neely, Jamie Freed and Jane Merriman

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