Mark A. Forkner was charged with two counts of fraud
a former boeing pilot He was charged Thursday by a federal grand jury with defrauding safety regulators about the 737 MAX jetliner, which was later involved in two fatal crashes.
The indictment led to Mark A. Forkner of providing false and incomplete information to the Federal Aviation Administration about an automated flight-control system that played a role in the crashes that killed 346 people.
Prosecutors said that because of Forkner’s alleged deception, the system was not mentioned in pilot manuals or training materials.
An attorney for Forkner did not immediately respond for comment. Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.
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Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of aircraft parts fraud and four counts of wire fraud in interstate commerce. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to appear in court for the first time on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face up to 100 years in prison.
The indictment alleges that he concealed information about a flight-control system that accidentally activated and pushed down the nose of the Max jet that crashed in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019. The pilots unsuccessfully attempted to regain control, but both planes failed minutes after takeoff.
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Forkner was Boeing’s chief technical pilot in the MAX program. Prosecutors said Forkner learned of a significant change to the maneuver attribute enhancement system flight-control system in 2016, but withheld information from the FAA. This prompted the agency to remove the reference to MCAS from the technical report and, in turn, it did not appear in the pilot manual. Most pilots were not aware of MCAS until after the first crash.
Prosecutors suggested that Forkner reduced the power of the system to avoid a requirement that pilots undergo extensive and costly retraining, which would increase training costs for airlines. Congressional investigators suggested that the additional training would increase the cost of each aircraft by $1 million.
“In an effort to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “His harsh choice to mislead the FAA hindered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about some 737 MAX flight controls.”
Forkner told another Boeing employee in 2016 that MCAS was “serious” and “largely underway” when he tested it in a flight simulator, but he did not tell the FAA.
“So I basically lied to regulators (unintentionally),” Forkner wrote in a message. which went public in 2019.
Forkner, who lives in a Fort Worth suburb, joined Southwest Airlines after leaving Boeing, but left the airline about a year ago.
Chicago-based Boeing agreed to a $2.5 billion settlement To end the Justice Department’s investigation into the company’s actions. The government agreed to drop the criminal conspiracy charge against Boeing after three years if the company met the terms of the January 2020 agreement. The settlement included a $243.6 million fine, about $1.8 billion for the airlines that bought the plane, and a $500 million fund to compensate the families of the passengers killed.
The families of dozens of passengers are suing Boeing in federal court in Chicago.
The crash investigation highlighted the role of MCAS, but also pointed to the mistakes of airlines and pilots. Max jets were grounded around the world for more than a year and a half. The FAA approved the aircraft for re-flying late last year after Boeing made changes to the MCAS.