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DALLAS (AP) – A former Boeing pilot was indicted by a federal grand jury on Thursday for misleading safety regulators about the 737 Max airliner, which was later involved in two fatal crashes.
The indictment accuses Mark A. Forkner of giving the Federal Aviation Administration false and incomplete information about an automated flight control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people.
Prosecutors said that due to Forkner’s alleged deception, the system was not mentioned in pilot manuals or training materials.
A Forkner lawyer did not immediately respond to the comments. Boeing declined to comment.
Forkner, 49, has been charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors have said he is scheduled to appear in court for the first time on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If found guilty on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.
The indictment claims he withheld information about a flight control system that accidentally activated and stuck in the noses of the Max jets that crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control, but the two planes nosed down a few minutes after takeoff.
Forkner was Boeing’s chief technical pilot on the Max program. Prosecutors said Forkner was made aware of a significant change to the maneuvering characteristics augmentation system’s flight control system in 2016, but withheld the information from the FAA. This led the agency to remove the reference to MCAS from a technical report and, in turn, it did not appear in pilot manuals. Most pilots didn’t know about MCAS until after the first crash.
Prosecutors suggested Forkner downplayed the power of the system to avoid requiring pilots to undergo extensive and expensive retraining, which would increase training costs for airlines. Congressional investigators suggested that additional training would have added $ 1 million to the price of each plane.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, acting US attorney for the North Texas District. “His ruthless choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots embarrassed, lacking information on some of the 737 MAX’s flight controls.”
Forkner told another Boeing employee in 2016 that MCAS was “blatant” and “creepy” when he tested it in a flight simulator, but he did not tell the FAA.
“So I basically lied to regulators (without knowing it),” Forkner wrote in a post that went public in 2019.
Forkner, who lives in a suburb of Fort Worth, joined Southwest Airlines after leaving Boeing, but left the airline about a year ago.
Chicago-based Boeing has agreed to a $ 2.5 billion settlement to end a Department of Justice investigation into the company’s shares. The government agreed to drop a criminal conspiracy charge against Boeing after three years if the company complies with the terms of the January 2020 settlement. The settlement included a fine of $ 243.6 million, nearly $ 1.8 billion. for the airlines that bought the plane and $ 500 million for a compensation fund for the families of passengers killed.
Dozens of passenger families are suing Boeing in federal court in Chicago.
Accident investigations have highlighted the role of MCAS, but have also pointed to mistakes made by airlines and pilots. Max planes have been grounded around the world for over a year and a half. The FAA approved the plane’s flight late last year after Boeing made changes to MCAS.
David Koenig can be contacted at www.twitter.com/airlinewriter