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U.S. sanctions Boeing for disclosing details of the Alaska Airlines explosion

The National Transportation Safety Board took several actions against the company including limiting its involvement in the ongoing investigation.

Boeing 737-9 MAX(AFP Photo / NTSB)

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) sanctioned Boeing after the company disclosed confidential details about the ongoing investigation into the incident in January involving a Boeing 737 Max on an Alaska Airlines flight.

The NTSB accused Boeing of "blatantly" violating investigation regulations, as well as a signed agreement, by providing unauthorized information to the media and speculating about the possible causes of the explosion of the metal door plug on one of its aircraft that occurred shortly after takeoff and which opened up a hole in the plane.

As a result, the NTSB has imposed severe restrictions on Boeing which includes withdrawing access to ongoing information about the investigation and limiting its participation in future investigative hearings.

Boeing will be summoned to appear at a hearing scheduled for August, where it will not be able to question other involved parties, in stark contrast to what the other participants will be allowed to do.  Also, the NTSB suggested that the violation of the investigation agreement could be reviewed by the Justice Department, especially in light of an earlier plea agreement that Boeing violated in 2021.

What information did Boeing disclose?

Elizabeth Lund, Boeing's senior vice president of quality, discussed preliminary information about the Jan. 5 fuselage explosion in a meeting with about 50 journalists from around the world.  This represented a violation of established protocols that grant the NTSB the exclusive right to disclose and discuss details of air accident investigations.

The NTSB clarified that Boeing had incorrectly described the investigation as a search to locate the individual responsible for the work on the door plug, while the agency is allegedly focused on determining the probable cause of the accident without attributing individual responsibility or assessing blame.

"In addition, Boeing offered opinions and analysis on factors it suggested were causal to the accident," the agency added.

Boeing reacts to sanctions

In response to the NTSB's actions, Boeing spokeswoman Jessica Kowal issued apologies and stated that Lund's comments were made with the intention of taking responsibility and sharing lessons learned from the January incident.

"We apologize to the NTSB and stand ready to answer any questions as the agency continues its investigation," the company said in a statement.