Boeing Pleads Guilty: A Timeline of 737 Max's Troubled History That Led to Criminal Charges

By Thea Felicity

Jul 08, 2024 04:00 PM EDT

Boeing Pleads Guilty—A Timeline of 737 Max's Troubled History That Led to Criminal Charges
Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun arrives as family members of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 and Lion Air Flight 610 crashes hold up photographs of their loved ones before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Investigations Subcommittee hearing on Boeing's broken safety culture on Capitol Hill on June 18, 2024 in Washington, DC. Calhoun says he is "here to take responsibility" as he testifies before the Senate to discuss ongoing quality and safety issues after a new 737 Max 9 airplane's door panel blew out mid-flight during an Alaska Airlines flight in January.
(Photo : Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)

A recemt reprt from VCPost said Boeing has pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges and agreed to a $243.6 million fine to settle a U.S. Justice Department probe linked to two fatal 737 MAX crashes.

What Is the Boeing 737 MAX Scandal?

The Boeing 737 MAX scandal revolves around two fatal crashes involving the 737 MAX aircraft. Investigations revealed that a critical flight control system known as MCAS (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) played a central role in both accidents, prompting allegations of inadequate pilot training, flawed safety assessments, and regulatory oversight issues, per the Washington Post.

Boeing faced extensive criticism for handling the aircraft's design flaws, leading to worldwide groundings, production halts, executive changes, and a series of legal and regulatory challenges. 

READ MORE: Boeing Agrees to Plead Guilty to Misleading US Regulators and Pay Fines, Yet Victims' Families Are Upset

Timeline of Boeing 737 MAX Crash and Charges


A series of Boeing's 737 MAX accidents began in October 2018 with a Lion Air crash in Indonesia that claimed 189 lives. Shortly in November of the same year, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) started to assess whether it was necessary to make changes to the software or design of the 737 MAX aircraft. 2019-2020

The first Boeing 737 MAX accident was immediately followed by an Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019, killing all 157 aboard. These tragedies prompted global grounding orders and scrutiny of Boeing's safety protocols.

In response, the FAA formed an international team to review the safety of the 737 MAX. Boeing cut monthly production by nearly 20% in response to the grounding of the aircraft.

Reuters reported that Boeing initiated software updates and faced production cuts simultaneously. The company's board of directors also established a permanent safety committee to oversee its aircraft, including the 737 MAX, development, manufacturing, and operation.

In the aftermath of the Boeing 737 MAX crash, pressure from victims' families intensified, leading Boeing to remove Kevin McAllister, the head of its commercial airplanes division, as part of executive changes to address the MAX crisis.

By November 2020, the FAA lifted the grounding, but ongoing issues led to additional setbacks and regulatory scrutiny. However, still facing ongoing scrutiny and fallout from the crashes, Boeing dismisses CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

Then, the company suspended 737 production, marking its largest assembly-line halt in over two decades.

Only in May 2020 did Boeing resume 737 MAX production at a reduced rate after implementing design changes and regulatory approvals. A month later, a series of delayed flight tests took place for Boeing's redesigned 737 MAX with regulators at the controls, aiming to address safety concerns.

In November 2020, the FAA finally lifted the grounding order on the 737 MAX, allowing the aircraft to return to commercial service after extensive modifications.  

Before the year ended, the US Congress passed legislation to reform the FAA's aircraft certification process, prompted by the MAX crashes and subsequent investigations.


The European Union Aviation Safety Agency approves the return of the 737 MAX to service in Europe, aligning with the FAA's decision.

However, Al Jazeera reported that China's aviation regulator expressed major safety concerns about the 737 MAX, delaying its recertification and test flights. A month later, Boeing halted some 737 MAX aircraft deliveries due to electrical issues, further complicating its recovery efforts.

In the same year, Boeing reached a $237.5 million settlement with current and former directors to resolve shareholder lawsuits related to safety oversight of the 737 MAX.


The FAA notified Boeing of incomplete key documents submitted during the certification review of the 737 MAX 7, triggering further scrutiny. US Congress also extended deadlines for new standards in cockpit alerts following intense lobbying from Boeing, reflecting ongoing regulatory challenges.


Boeing pauses deliveries of some 737 MAX aircraft to address supplier quality issues, adding to its operational setbacks. The company also experienced delays in delivering the 737 MAX 7 due to ongoing production challenges and quality control issues.

In August 2023, new supplier quality problems surfaced involving improperly drilled holes on the aft pressure bulkhead of the 737 MAX, further impacting production.

As a result, in September 2023, Boeing 737 MAX deliveries reached their lowest levels since August 2021, according to Reuters.

Eventually, Boeing made its first direct delivery of a 787 Dreamliner to China since 2019, a move seen as a step towards potentially resolving 737 MAX delivery freezes.


After almost five years of repairs and regulations, VCPost reported that an Alaska Air 737 MAX 9 called for an emergency landing due to a mid-air cabin incident. This prompted the FAA to ground 171 jets and launch an investigation.

An FAA audit of 737 MAX production finds instances where Boeing and supplier Spirit AeroSystems allegedly failed to meet manufacturing quality control standards.

Boeing then agreed to buy back Spirit AeroSystems to improve production and address quality challenges from the FAA and US Congress.

Between March and July 2024, VCPost reported that Boeing CEO David Calhoun faced 737 MAX crash victims during a senate hearing and defended their safety standards. The recent development is Boeing's agreement to plead guilty to criminal fraud charges and pay a $243.6 million fine to resolve the Justice Department's investigation into the 737 MAX crashes.

READ NEXT: Boeing Faces New Safety Probe Due to Missing Paperwork That Caused Alaska Air Accident

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