A federal court indicted Mark Forkner, a former Chief Technical Pilot for Boeing, for misleading the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) during the certification process of the Boeing 737 MAX, which was involved in two crashes in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.
“Forkner allegedly abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS during the FAA evaluation and certification of the 737 MAX and from Boeing’s U.S.‑based airline customers,” the United States Department of Justice explained in a statement.
The Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight software was designed to counteract the pitching-up effect of the MAX’s larger engines by pushing the aircraft’s nose down. The fact that the system was acting on non-redundant sensors was cited as the main factor for the crash of both Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302.
In October 2019, the FAA turned over a set of damaging emails between Forkner and the regulator to the US Congress. In an email sent 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.”
The former test pilot was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and 10 years for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.
Families of victims of the Ethiopian Airlines crash reacted to the indictment through their lawyer. “The indictment today of Boeing’s former chief pilot for deceiving federal authorities about the 737 MAX is a corporate whitewash,” said Robert Clifford, lead counsel of the litigation against Boeing currently pending in federal district court in Chicago. “The tragic loss of 157 lives could have been prevented had Mark Forkner spoken up, but he certainly didn’t act alone.”
In January 2021, Boeing was charged with conspiracy for withholding information about MCAS during the certification process of the aircraft. Two employees, including Forkner, 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.