Mark A. Forkner, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot involved in the company’s 737 Max testing, was indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Texas. Due to his position with the company, he was in charge of coordinating with the Federal Aviation Administration to determine the kind of training a pilot needs to fly a particular plane. The indictment accuses him of deceiving the agency’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) when it evaluated and certified the 737 Max model. If you’ll recall, two 737 Max planes crashed within months of each other in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.
Forkner allegedly provided the FAA 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).” In both crashes, the AEG determined after an investigation that MCAS, a system designed to push the plane’s nose down in certain situations, activated during the flight. The planes that crashed — Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — nosedived almost as soon as they took off.
According to the Department of Justice, Forkner discovered an important change to MCAS in November 2016, but he allegedly withheld that information from the AEG. As a result, the FAA removed all reference to MCAS in the pilot training materials for the 737 Max. Acting US Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the Northern District of Texas said in a statement that the former chief pilot’s actions were financially motivated:
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators. His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud — especially in industries where the stakes are so high.”
Earlier this year, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion to settle the criminal charge that it had conspired to defraud the FAA. It also agreed to work with the FAA’s fraud section for any ongoing and future investigations. As for Forkner, he was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts and four counts of wire fraud. He’s now facing a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.