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Boeing 737 MAX Government Investigation

This guide chronicles the government investigation around the safety of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, focusing on the Congressional and agencies hearings, reports, and documentation produced in the process.

Selected Chronology


FAA halts Boeing MAX production expansion to improve quality control

Press release


FAA temporarily grounds MAX 9 airplanes

Press release

1.5.2024 A MAX 9 depressurizes over Portland, OR after a fuselage blowout
12.28.2023 Boeing urges all airlines to inspect 737 MAX planes after finding loose bolts in the rudder-control system.
8.23.2023 Boeing reports defects in the aft pressure bulkhead assembled by Spirit

In an appropriations bill, Congress clears the way for FAA to certify 737 MAX 7 and MAX 10 despite outdated crew alert systems

H.R. 2617, Title V

9.22.2022 Boeing to Pay $200 Million to Settle SEC Charges that it Misled Investors about the 737 MAX
Former CEO Agrees to Settle to Same Charges and Pay $1 Million

"There are no words to describe the tragic loss of life brought about by these two airplane crashes," said SEC Chair Gary Gensler. "In times of crisis and tragedy, it is especially important that public companies and executives provide full, fair, and truthful disclosures to the markets. The Boeing Company and its former CEO, Dennis Muilenburg, failed in this most basic obligation. They misled investors by providing assurances about the safety of the 737 MAX, despite knowing about serious safety concerns. The SEC remains committed to rooting out misconduct when public companies and their executives fail to fulfill their fundamental obligations to the investing public."
Press Release
9.7.2022 FAA finalizes safety rule change sought after 737 Max crashes
"The Federal Aviation Administration issued new rules Wednesday designed to guarantee the independence of engineers employed by Boeing and other aviation companies tasked with performing safety oversight on the government’s behalf."  Washington Post 9/7/2022
FAA final document

"Southwest Airlines proposed a ploy to deceive the FAA about Boeing's 737 MAX, a legal filing suggests. It’s unclear if Boeing followed through on what the former U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General calls a "really appalling" plan that should trigger an investigation." The Seattle Times 5/16/2022


The Boeing Company Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA)
Court Docket No.: 4:21-CR-005-O (N.D. Texas)
Department of Justice Press Release  Link 

Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) PDF


Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) issued the following statement after the acquittal of former Boeing 737 MAX chief technical pilot Mark Forkner:
“As I have said many times, Boeing needs to be held accountable.  Criminal prosecution is not the only form that can take.  FAA should be conducting its own investigation to determine if civil enforcement is warranted. FAA’s lack of action on this front is stunning, and that’s why we’ve asked the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to review how FAA has dealt with Boeing’s questionable conduct.”
Press Release

Peter DeFazio and Rick Larsen letter to Inspector General Eric J. Soskin PDF ( 2.11.2022)


 Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot, Mark A. Forkner, found not guilty in 737 MAX criminal trial.

"After deliberating less than two hours Wednesday, a jury herefound Mark Forkner, who was Boeing Co.’s chief technical pilot during the aircraft’s development, not guilty of deceiving a Federal Aviation Administration training official about a flight-control system blamed for sending two of the jets into fatal nosedives in 2018 and 2019." WSJ


Trial of Former Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot, Mark A. Forkner, Began Friday. He was Indicted for Fraud  in October.

“Forkner allegedly abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS during the FAA evaluation and certification of the 737 MAX and from Boeing’s U.S.‑based airline customers,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “In doing so, he deprived airlines and pilots from knowing crucial information about an important part of the airplane’s flight controls. Regulators like the FAA serve a vital function to ensure the safety of the flying public. To anyone contemplating criminally impeding a regulator’s function, this indictment makes clear that the Justice Department will pursue the facts and hold you accountable.”     

Justice Department Press Release 
Forkner Indictment 

2.28.2022 FAA Expands Use of Independent Review Groups When Certifying Aircraft.

"This week, the agency expanded the use of independent groups of internal and external safety experts for certification projects such as commercial aircraft, smaller aircraft and drones. These reviews, called Technical Advisory Boards (TAB), help the FAA have a consistent and thorough approach for all aircraft certification projects."

"TAB members focus on a big-picture view of the project. Depending on the level of review, their responsibilities could include: 

Identifying new technologies, designs or design features that could be catastrophic if they failed
Determining whether FAA project specialists reviewed all major issues
Determining whether similar systems have caused problems on other aircraft
Determining whether the proper FAA offices were involved in the certification process
Conducting secondary design reviews and procedure and training evaluations

The FAA formed a TAB when recertifying the Boeing 737 MAX and is has one in place for the certification review of the Boeing 777X. "

Press Release


FAA Administrator Steve Dickson Will Resign Next Month
Letter of resignation

11.3.2021  Dickson testimony: Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Video Recording


T&I Chairs Request DOT OIG Review of FAA’s Oversight of Boeing’s Apparent 737 MAX Misconduct
DeFazio and Larsen’s call for OIG investigation comes after the FAA failed to adequately respond to concerns raised in November 2021 letter.

DeFazio and Larsen's Letter to the Department of Transportation Inspector General PDF

Washington, DC – Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Chair of the Subcommittee on Aviation Rick Larsen (D-WA) requested the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (DOT OIG) to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) refusal to exercise proper oversight over Boeing’s apparent misconduct regarding Boeing’s 737 MAX.

In 2018 and 2019, the crashes of two 737 MAX aircraft resulted in the deaths of 346 people.

The Chairs’ request came after FAA failed to provide an adequate response to their November 2021 letter with Congressman Greg Stanton (D-AZ) seeking answers from the agency on the apparent lack of Boeing accountability for longstanding issues with the 737 MAX.  

“As described in our November 29, 2021, letter, when Boeing first discovered that the [angle of attack] AOA Disagree alert was inoperable on more than 80 percent of 737 MAX aircraft, Boeing continued to produce 737 MAX planes with the inoperable alert, in violation of its approved type design, and concealed the nonconformity from FAA, airline customers, and MAX pilots for more than a year,” the Chairs wrote to DOT Inspector General Eric J. Soskin.

The first issue that DeFazio and Larsen want the DOT OIG to look into is the angle of attack (AOA) disagree alert, and FAA’s failure to hold Boeing accountable for not disclosing the AOA issues until after a fatal crash.

“This response is problematic for two reasons. First, Administrator Dickson did not address the fact that Boeing did NOT communicate the issue to customers despite having knowledge of it for more than a year, and then only did so after the first deadly 737 MAX crash. Second, the blatant lack of enforcement actions against such non-compliance in this case could encourage manufacturers to ignore their approved type design in the future. Fortunately, the Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability Act provides FAA with additional enforcement mechanisms for nonconformities with type design,” DeFazio and Larsen wrote.

The second issue addressed in the letter is the Boeing effort to downplay MCAS.

“During our committee’s investigation, we uncovered an alarming internal Boeing record, documenting a 2013 meeting in which individuals appear to have hatched an explicit plan to avoid using the term ‘MCAS’ with anyone outside of Boeing because, ‘If we emphasize MCAS is a new function there may be greater certification and training impact,’” DeFazio and Larsen wrote.  Their letter noted that the Boeing document suggested a plan to downplay the significance of MCAS to at least one regulator and that an Authorized Representative, a Boeing employee authorized to conduct work on behalf of the FAA, was involved in the plan.  A copy of the document, which has been previously released, can be found here.

“In response to the November 29, 2021, letter which asked for more specific information about FAA’s investigation and/or civil enforcement efforts regarding the plan to downplay MCAS, Administrator Dickson responded, ‘FAA actions focused on the safety of the product and the acceptability of the system for return to service. Due to the U.S. Department of Justice investigation as well as the work of the Joint Authorities Technical Review and Special Committee, the FAA did not pursue investigations or actions [emphasis added] against the individuals within the Boeing Company,’” DeFazio and Larsen wrote.

The Chairs requested the DOT OIG examine three matters: review and reevaluate FAA’s actions as it relates oversight of AOA disagree sensors and MCAS; assess whether FAA’s actions followed applicable statues, policies, and procedures; and identify any legal or regulatory hurdles that precluded FAA from pursuing civil enforcement related to either matter.

Press Release


Lawmakers demand fresh investigation into FAA decision not to penalize Boeing for MAX failures

"Leading congressional Democrats have asked the Department of Transportation Inspector General’s Office to review what they see as the Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to hold Boeing accountable for serious lapses that contributed to the two 737 MAX crashes.

U.S. House Transportation chair Rep. DeFazio, D-Ore., and aviation subcommittee chair Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett — who led a high-profile investigation into the crashes and made public key internal Boeing documents that revealed substantial failures — are pushing for civil action against Boeing and potentially against individual employees."

The Seattle Times 2.15.2022


The United States of America’s response to the motion filed by representatives of certain crash victims of Lion Air flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 for findings that the deferred prosecution agreement was negotiated in violation of the Crime Victims’ Rights Act PDF

Crime Victims' Rights Act


Federal grand jury indicts former Boeing chief test pilot Mark A. Forkner in connection with 737 Max crashes.
"According to court documents, Mark A. Forkner, 49, formerly of Washington State and currently of Keller, Texas, allegedly deceived the FAA AEG during the agency’s evaluation and certification of Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane. As alleged in the indictment, Forkner provided the agency with materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 MAX called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Because of his alleged deception, a key document published by the FAA AEG lacked any reference to MCAS. In turn, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials for U.S.-based airlines lacked any reference to MCAS — and Boeing’s U.S.-based airline customers were deprived of important information when making and finalizing their decisions to pay Boeing tens of millions of dollars for 737 MAX airplanes."

Justice Department Press Release 
Forkner Indictment 


Boeing ordered to inspect 737 cabin sensors; flaw could incapacitate pilots.
"More than 2,500 Boeing Co. 737 jets in the U.S. will have to be inspected after the company and regulators discovered a potential flaw in a pressure switch that could lead to pilots becoming incapacitated...."  Seattle Times 


FAA Requires 737 MAX Operators To Regularly Check Flight Controls.
"The FAA is adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for certain The Boeing Company Model 737-8 and 737-9 (737 MAX) airplanes. This AD was prompted by the determination that additional Certification Maintenance Requirements (CMRs) are necessary. This AD requires a revision of the existing maintenance or inspection program to incorporate three additional CMRs. The FAA is issuing this AD to address the unsafe condition on these products." 
Federal Register PDF


Boeing to Pay at Least $17 Million to Settle Enforcement Cases on 737.
FAA Press Release:

"The FAA found that the Chicago-based manufacturer installed equipment on 759 Boeing 737 MAX and NG aircraft containing sensors that were not approved for that equipment; submitted approximately 178 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft for airworthiness certification when the aircraft potentially had nonconforming slat tracks installed; and improperly marked those slat tracks." 


Boeing had notified 16 customers to stop flying some 737 MAX planes to address a manufacturing issue that could affect the operation of a backup power control unit
Southwest Airlines removed 30 MAX airplanes from its schedule Friday, while American Airlines removed 17 of its 41 MAX airplanes and United Airlines removed 16 of its 30 MAX airplanes. Boeing Press Release 


Boeing 737 MAX Return to Service in Europe 
Overview of the Technical Investigation Activities Performed by EASA  PDF


European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) declares Boeing 737 MAX safe to return to service in Europe.
Press release TEXT


The Department of Justice Charged Boeing with 737 MAX Fraud Conspiracy and Settled for $2.5 Billion.
Justice Department Press Release TEXT


Release of the H.R. 133 Including Division V Aircraft Certification, Safety, and Accountability.


Senate Report: Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee released its investigation report on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)


The FAA approves the return of the Boeing 737 MAX to service.
Summary of the FAA’s Review of the Boeing 737 MAX PDF


The  House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Leaders Unveil Bipartisan Legislation to Strengthen FAA’s Certification Process and Improve the Regulatory System. PDF


House Report: An 18-month investigation by a U.S. House of Representatives panel finds that the FAA failed in its oversight and certification and Boeing failed in its design and development of the MAX as well as its transparency with the FAA. PDF


Boeing fires Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg 


FAA joins other major global regulators in grounding the 737 MAX.


An Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashes, killing all 157 people on board.


A Lion Air 737 MAX plane crashes in Indonesia, killing all 189 people on board.


The 737 MAX gains U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification.