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Federal Grand Jury Charges Former Boeing Pilot in 737 MAX Crash Case

Texas federal grand jury indicted ex-Boeing Co.

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pilot for allegedly deceiving federal regulators during the aircraft manufacturer’s development of the 737 MAX before two of the planes crashed, the US Department of Justice said.

Mark A. Forkner, 49, was charged with misleading the Federal Aviation Administration regarding training material related to a flight control system which was later accused of playing a significant role in the crashes, said the Ministry of Justice. The accidents occurred in late 2018 and early 2019 and killed 346 people.

A lawyer for Mr Forkner could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday. David Gerger, an attorney for Mr Forkner, has previously said Mr Forkner, a pilot and Air Force veteran, will not endanger pilots or passengers and his communications with regulators are honest.

Prosecutors alleged that Forkner provided the agency with “materially false, inaccurate and incomplete information” about the flight control systems known as MCAS.

Due to the alleged deception, FAA training specialists and airline pilot training manuals and materials had no reference to the system, prosecutors said.

A new type of defect on Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft has recently emerged, the latest in a series of issues that have resulted in deliveries being stopped. The company now has over $ 25 billion in aircraft in its inventory. Andrew Tangel of the WSJ explains how Boeing got here. Photo: Reuters

Mr. Forkner allegedly “abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS,” Deputy Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a statement. Such actions deprived airlines and pilots of crucial information about a significant portion of the aircraft’s flight controls, he said.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment.

The case against Mr Forkner marks the first indictment since the two MAX accidents, the first of which occurred three years ago this month.

The automated MCAS system has been accused of putting the two Boeing 737 MAXs in fatal dives. Accident investigators also cited the airline and crew missteps. The accidents brought the fleet to a global standstill of almost two years and created the most severe corporate crisis in Boeing’s history. The FAA approved the plane to fly again late last year.

The MCAS system was originally designed to activate under certain flight conditions that airline pilots would not normally encounter. During the development of the aircraft, Boeing engineers extended the authority of the system and the conditions that would trigger it.

In chat messages released by congressional investigators, Mr Forkner suggested that he had not told regulators that Boeing engineers were making the MCAS system more powerful and that pilots would be more likely to encounter it during the flight. Mr. Forkner suggested in the messages that he was not aware of the changes to the flight control system. “So I basically lied to regulators (without knowing it),” he said in a 2016 post.

The indictment alleged that Mr. Forkner could at that point have informed the FAA of the change in the system, but rather “withheld this important fact”. Months later, Mr. Forkner again recommended that the FAA not include a reference to the system in a report that determined how much training pilots would need to fly the new jet, according to the indictment. .

Mr Gerger said Mr Forkner’s chat messages referred to issues with a simulator, not the aircraft.

Mr Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud, prosecutors said. The Justice Department said Mr Forkner’s alleged deception concealed important information from customers of the U.S. airlines who bought the planes from Boeing.

Mr. Forkner knew that a key Boeing goal was to gain FAA approval for a training program that would not require MAX pilots to take simulator training, which would be costly to airline customers. aircraft manufacturer, according to the indictment.

Mr Forkner knew Boeing could suffer financially if regulators demanded simulator training, according to the indictment, which cited an email from December 2014 that he allegedly wrote: “It was Mark, yes Mark! That cost Boeing tens of millions of dollars!

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that Boeing agreed to reimburse Southwest Airlines Co.

$ 1 million per MAX aircraft requiring simulator training.

Boeing struck a $ 2.5 billion deal with the Justice Department in January over the affair. The company has been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States. However, under the settlement, Boeing will avoid prosecution for the charge – and remain eligible for federal contracts – as long as the company avoids legal issues for a period of three years. .

Boeing’s settlement with the Justice Department, which did not name Mr. Forkner, said the misconduct by its former employees was “neither widespread throughout the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management ”.

(more soon)

Write to Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com

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