FAA makes unusual claim in Boeing 737 Max crashes, calling ex-pilot Mark Forkner a “scapegoat”

Federal Aviation Administration officials have contacted US prosecutors to warn them that the only person charged with a felony after the two fatal accidents of the Boeing Co. 737 Max has become a “scapegoat,” according to a court file in the United States. ‘case.

Justice Department statements after indicting Mark Forkner de Keller, the former chief technical pilot of Boeing, contained “many errors” last October, according to an email and presentation given to prosecutors by employees of the FAA. The case’s focus on Forkner’s actions in the wake of the accidents is “incorrect and misguided,” FAA officials said.

The unusual claims by FAA officials, which could significantly undermine the prosecution’s case, were detailed in a motion by Forkner’s attorneys filed in a Texas court on Monday asking a judge to order access to those responsible in as potential witnesses in the case.

An anonymous FAA official approached prosecutors on October 26, 12 days after Forkner’s indictment, to request a meeting, according to the petition of Forkner’s attorneys Jeff Kearney, Catherine Stanley and David Gerger.

“Forkner, he said, is a ‘scapegoat’ and should ‘not be charged’,” the lawyers said in the petition.

In a PowerPoint presentation by FAA officials, with the agency’s logo prominently displayed on every page, they say the alleged ‘smoking runaway’ evidence was irrelevant to the case, and the role of Forking in the development of pilot training for the Max played no role in the FAA’s decision to certify the aircraft or the design errors that led to the crashes.

The news throws new uncertainty into the Forkner case and the tale of the 737 Max saga, which brought Boeing’s best-selling aircraft to a standstill for 20 months and resulted in billions of losses for the aircraft manufacturer. It also includes some of the most detailed explanations of what US regulators say went wrong with the approval of the 737 Max.

Erin Dooley, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the North Texas District, where the charges against Forkner were filed, declined to comment on the motion.

The FAA did not immediately respond to a request to discuss the case. Boeing could not immediately be reached for comment.

Crashes off the Indonesian and Ethiopian coasts over the span of about four months in 2018 and 2019, which left 346 dead, were triggered in part by blackouts that caused planes to automatically dive down on several occasions. In either case, the pilots failed to perform a procedure that would have disabled the roaming system and ultimately lost control of the planes.

Towards the end of the aircraft’s design, Boeing engineers modified the system to lower the nose of the aircraft more aggressively, but did not fully explain the changes to the FAA, according to several surveys. .

Boeing struck a $ 2.5 billion deal in the dying days of the Trump administration that solved a two-year criminal investigation without blaming executives or strangling the company’s finances. The settlement focused closely on the actions of Forkner and another former Boeing employee involved in writing pilot manuals, and the Justice Department found that “the misconduct was not widespread on the whole organization, neither undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management. . “

The aerospace titan accepted a single count for deceptive US regulators who certified the Max’s design and paid a fine of $ 243.3 million. The charge will be dropped after three years if Boeing complies with the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement.

“Tricks of the Jedi Spirit”

Forkner became a poster of Boeing’s failures when a mine of his caustic and sarcastic text messages was posted. He bragged about using “Jedi mind tricks” to persuade regulators and told a colleague he had unknowingly misled the FAA.

However, FAA officials who approached prosecutors said its role in developing pilot training materials and persuading the FAA and other regulators around the world to approve them was irrelevant to the flaws of the pilot. aircraft design and accidents.

Then, around November 16, the official, who was apparently helped by other FAA members, sent the PowerPoint presentation to prosecutors, the lawyers wrote. None of the officials were identified in the motion.

He said there was a “false narrative” following the crashes that focused on whether pilots had been properly trained on the crash-related system. It had been Forkner’s responsibility to get approval for the training.

The real issues that led to the crashes were the failure of Boeing engineers to recognize that a single faulty sensor on the plane could lead to such dire consequences, officials said. “All the training in the world cannot resolve this nonconformity,” they said during the presentation.

The problem “pertained to an engineering issue for which Mr. Forkner was neither qualified, nor expected, nor responsible,” PowerPoint said. “Any fault lies with the personnel involved in the technical certification. “

The motion does not specify whether officials believe other Boeing employees have committed crimes.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines was the largest buyer of Boeing-manufactured 737 Max 8 jets.

After leaving Boeing in July 2018, Forkner worked at Southwest Airlines for two years. The Dallas-based carrier is the 737 Max’s biggest customer and has staked its future on the new fuel-efficient model. He bought the airline last year.

The FAA has so far refused to allow current or former employees to become involved in the case. Forkner’s legal team filed the motion to try to access it.

The Justice Department handed over information on the officials’ allegations, including PowerPoint, according to the motion. Forkner’s attorneys included some pages of the presentation, but not the full document.

The case is US v. Forkner, 21cr268, US District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

Alan Levin, Bloomberg

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