A US federal grand jury has indicted a former Boeing chief test pilot for fraud for allegedly misleading aviation regulators evaluating the safety of the 737 Max aircraft.
Mark Forkner, 49, who now lives in Texas, what loaded with providing the Federal Aviation Administration with false and incomplete information about the aircraft’s flight control process, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System or MCAS.
The flight control system, which can repeatedly push down the nose of the aircraft, was a critical factor in two 737 Max crashes in five months during 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people in total. The plane was grounded around the world for nearly two years, and Boeing paid $ 2.5 billion in January as part of a deferred processing deal.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Acting US Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad Meacham. “His callous decision to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left the pilots in the lurch.”
Forkner’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.
Text messages sent by Forkner that were made public two years ago showed that he was talking about “regulators deceiving the Jedi mind.” In an exchange in November 2016, he said MCAS appeared to be “running rampant” in the simulator, activating at slower speeds than it had told regulators. He added: “[S]o Basically I lied to regulators (unknowingly). “
After the simulator flight, Forkner confirmed with a Boeing senior engineer that MCAS would activate at low speeds, according to the indictment. But two days after his experience with the simulator, he began urging regulators to remove MCAS from his report “as it is outside the normal operating framework.”
“This representation was materially false because Forkner knew that [FAA regulators] it had ‘agreed not to refer to MCAS’ based on outdated and incorrect information, ”the indictment says.
The jet flight manual and pilot training manuals did not mention MCAS. The FAA didn’t know it existed until after the first accident.
Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.
Boeing had wanted to minimize the differences between the Max and an earlier model of the company’s best-selling narrow-body jet, the 737 NG, to avoid putting off airlines that were reluctant to bear the cost of retraining pilots.
The aircraft manufacturer, which had previously said simulator training was unnecessary for the Max, reversed its policy in January last year.
Forkner deprived US airlines, including American Airlines and Southwest Airlines of Texas, of material financial information when they decided to purchase the Max or not, according to the indictment, “allowing Boeing to earn uninterrupted and undiminished revenue and sales of the 737 Max. . ”.
Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. The former carries a maximum penalty of 10 years for each position and the latter of 20 years per position. He is scheduled to appear in court on Friday.