Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun leaves a meeting with Sen. Mark Warner on January 24, 2024.

(Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc. via Getty Images)

Boeing CEO's Voluntary Departure Is Not Accountability for Corporate Crime: Watchdog

"For real and lasting change to occur," said Public Citizen's Robert Weissman, "Boeing must now be held criminally accountable."

Embroiled once again in an alarming quality control and safety scandal, the aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing on Monday announced a management shake-up that will see CEO Dave Calhoun step down at the end of the year, the head of the company's commercial airplanes division resign immediately, and the chairman of the board depart after Boeing's annual meeting in May.

Calhoun, who said he decided on his own to resign, took charge at Boeing in the midst of the company's previous high-profile crisis—the grounding of the 737 MAX jet following a pair of crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed more than 340 people.

Robert Weissman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in response to the news of Calhoun's coming departure that "if Boeing had been held criminally accountable after the... 737 MAX disasters, the more recent quality debacles quite likely could have been averted."

Earlier this year, a door plug of a Boeing 737 MAX 9 flew off the aircraft as it ascended, causing minor injuries and forcing the pilots to conduct an emergency landing. More than 170 MAX 9s were subsequently grounded to undergo inspections.

The incident prompted federal regulators, airlines, and journalists to—once again—closely scrutinize Boeing's manufacturing process, cost-cutting efforts, lobbying against safety regulations, and executive and shareholder payouts.

The Leverreported days after the January 5 incident that "less than a month before a catastrophic aircraft failure prompted the grounding of more than 150 of Boeing's commercial aircraft, documents were filed in federal court alleging that former employees at the company's subcontractor repeatedly warned corporate officials about safety problems and were told to falsify records."

The outlet also found that "operators of Boeing's troubled 737 MAX planes have filed more than 1,800 service difficulty reports—more than one per day—warning government regulators about safety problems with the aircraft since the fleet was allowed to resume flying after two fatal crashes."

Alaska Airlines, the operator of the January 5 flight, said in late January that it found loose bolts on "many" of Boeing's 737 MAX 9s.

"The FAA identified noncompliance issues in Boeing's manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control."

In an update published on March 4, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said its six-week audit of Boeing and Spirit AeroSystems—a major Boeing contractor—uncovered "multiple instances where the companies allegedly failed to comply with manufacturing quality control requirements."

"The FAA identified noncompliance issues in Boeing's manufacturing process control, parts handling and storage, and product control," the agency said. "To hold Boeing accountable for its production quality issues, the FAA has halted production expansion of the Boeing 737 MAX, is exploring the use of a third party to conduct independent reviews of quality systems, and will continue its increased onsite presence at Boeing's facility in Renton, Washington, and Spirit AeroSystems' facility in Wichita, Kansas."

Earlier this month, days after the FAA update was published, a Boeing whistleblower who raised concerns about the company's quality control practices was found dead of what local officials said appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Weissman of Public Citizen said Monday that "of course CEO Dave Calhoun should be dismissed" over the company's latest safety crisis.

"But for real and lasting change to occur," he argued, "Boeing must now be held criminally accountable both for the recent safety failures and the... crashes that took 346 lives."

In 2021, Boeing entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to avoid a criminal charge over an alleged conspiracy to defraud the FAA in the wake of the 2018 and 2019 crashes.

Public Citizen noted in a report published Monday that "such agreements now help the most powerful businesses in the world dodge the legal consequences of their criminal misconduct."

"Instead of facing prosecution—which would mean plea agreements or trial in a public court of law—leniency deals are negotiated quietly between prosecutors and corporate lawyers with little or no judicial oversight," the group said. "Proponents say the agreements are a streamlined way to effectively deter corporate crime. Public Citizen research, however, shows about 15% of the agreements historically involve repeat offenders, casting doubt on their deterrent effect."

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.