US federal prosecutors are preparing to indict Mark Forkner, a former Boeing test pilot, over the two crashes of 737 MAX aircraft.
Forkner was Boeing’s chief technical pilot for 737 MAX. He is believed to have misled aviation regulators, leading to two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019, the Wall Street Journal reports citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.
According to the newspaper, the exact charges are yet unclear. Forkner is accused of being the one who withheld information about the faults in the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS), which was identified as the reason behind the crashes.
In October 2019, the FAA turned over to the US Congress a set of damaging emails between Forkner and the regulator. In an email in January 2017, Forkner reportedly told the agency that the company would delete a reference to MCAS from the flight operator’s manual and training course “because it is outside the normal operating envelope.” In another email to an FAA employee, dated November 2016, Forkner said he was working on “Jedi-mind tricking regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA.”
In January 2021 Boeing was charged with conspiracy for withholding information about MCAS during the certification process of the aircraft. Two employees – Forkner being one of them – were identified as the main culprits, with the company-wide “culture of concealment” enabling them to perform the deception. The company agreed to settle the case for $2.5 billion.
The pressing of further charges against Boeing employees adds another twist to the 737 MAX saga, which culminated with two-year long grounding of the aircraft.
Boeing 737 MAX was introduced in 2017. Soon after, two aircraft – one belonging to Lion Air, and another one to Ethiopian Airlines – crashed killing 346 people. The model was grounded worldwide and its production was suspended. After a lengthy testing and recertification process, aviation authorities began ungrounding it in late 2020.