© Reuters. An employee walks past a Boeing 737 Max plane that was seen parked at Renton Municipal Airport in Renton, Washington, USA on January 10, 2020. REUTERS / Lindsey Wasson / Files
By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A former Boeing (NYSE 🙂 Co chief technical pilot was charged with fraud Thursday for misleading federal regulators evaluating the company’s 737 MAX jet, hampering the airlines’ ability to protect passengers. and leaving “the pilots in the lurch.” said the United States Department of Justice.
Mark Forkner, 49, was indicted by a Texas grand jury on six counts of conspiring to defraud customers of Boeing’s US airlines to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing, the government said.
Boeing declined to comment. An attorney for Forkner did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the indictment, Forkner, largely in the run-up to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to approve the 737 MAX in 2017, provided the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group 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).
MCAS, a software feature designed to automatically push the aircraft nose down under certain conditions, was linked to two fatal 737 MAX crashes over a five-month period that killed 346 people and led to the FAA leaving the plane. on land for 19 months. action that was lifted in November 2020.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, the acting US attorney for North Texas. “His callous decision to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots high and dry, with no information on certain 737 MAX flight controls.”
The FAA declined to comment.
In January, Boeing agreed to pay https://www.reuters.com/article/boeing-737max-justice-int/boeing-to-pay-2-5-billion-to-settle-us-criminal-probe-into – 737-max-crashes-idUSKBN29D07Q more than $ 2.5 billion in fines and compensation after reaching a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice for the MAX accidents, which cost Boeing more than $ 20 billion.
The January agreement blamed Boeing’s conduct and said it held the largest US aircraft manufacturer responsible for the criminal conduct of its employees. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/boeing-charged-737-max-fraud-conspiracy-and-agrees-pay-over-25-billion
In January, Boeing admitted in court documents that through two former employees it misled the FAA about MCAS.
Prosecutors noted that a key FAA document lacked any reference to MCAS and, as a result, aircraft manuals and pilot training materials for US-based airlines also lacked reference.
A November 2016 message from Forkner said I was working on “Jedi-mind tricking regulators into accepting the training that the FAA accepted for me.”
If the FAA required pilot simulator training for MAX pilots, Boeing would have had to pay Southwest Airlines (NYSE 🙂 nearly $ 400 million to offset simulator-based pilot training requirements, according to a 2020 report from the US House of Representatives.
In 2019, the FAA required simulator training before pilots could resume MAX flight.
Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. He is expected to appear in court for the first time on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
If convicted, he could face decades in prison.