Fraud investigation leads to indictment of former Boeing 737 MAX chief engineering pilot

Former Boeing 737 MAX chief engineering pilot Mark Forkner has been charged in North Texas for allegedly misleading the Federal Aviation Administration’s assessment of the 737 MAX’s flight control system. (Boeing)

Mark A. Forkner, former chief technical pilot of the Boeing 737 MAX, has been indicted by a federal grand jury in the Northern District of Texas, according to an October 14 Department of Justice announcement.

Forkner is accused of misleading the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA AEG) Aircraft Assessment Panel as part of the panel’s assessment of the Boeing 737 MAX, which returned to passenger service at the end last year after being grounded when two separate Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline flights involving the plane crashed six months apart. An indictment outlining the Forkner investigation notes that his alleged deception is to provide FAA AEG with materially false, inaccurate and incomplete information about a new portion of the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight controls, the system for increasing air traffic. maneuvering characteristics (MCAS).

According to Forkner’s indictment, the alleged fraud has occurred, a change has been made to how MCAS works. Originally, MCAS was included in the flight control system to correct for the 737 MAX’s tendency to nose up during high speed turns – around Mach 0.6-0.8) – caused by larger engines. of the 737 MAX located differently under the wings compared to the 737 NG. Eventually, as the new aircraft type approached final type certification, this characteristic was changed and MCAS began to operate at lower speeds, around Mach 0.2, investigators write in the act. accusation.

As the program’s senior technical pilot, Forkner was tasked with updating the FAA’s AEG with information on the aircraft’s performance and any issues or challenges they should be aware of. Forkner eventually learned of the change in the operational range of MCAS during a simulated 737 MAX test flight in November 2016. However, following his discovery of the change, he withheld the information from the FAA AEG during a follow-up discussion with them about the flight simulation he participated in where the change was discovered.

The indictment notes that Forkner intentionally withheld the information in an attempt to prevent the FAA AEG from including a level above Level B in assessing the level of differences between the 737 MAX and its predecessor, the 737. NG. Levels of training above Level B can potentially be much more expensive for airlines and they typically involve full flight simulator training, an aspect of the re-engineered aircraft that Boeing wanted to avoid so that the cost of adopting the new plane is not expensive as a preventive measure. .

So when the FAA AEG released its Flight Standardization Board report which included determining formation differences for the new version of the aircraft, no mention of MCAS was included as the AEG deviated from the original premise according to which it would only be activated at higher speeds. than the normal operational range of a typical passenger carrying a 737 MAX flight. Officials note in the indictment that the AEG did not learn of the passage of MCAS operating at speeds higher than Mach 0.2 lower until the fatal crash of Lion Air Flight 610.

“In an attempt to save money for Boeing, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” Acting US Attorney Chad E. Meacham for the North Texas District said in a statement. “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. The Justice Department will not tolerate fraud, especially in areas where the stakes are so high. “

Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud, according to the indictment. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud and 10 years in prison for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce. .

“There is no excuse for those who deceive safety regulators for personal gain or business opportunity,” said Inspector General Eric J. Soskin of the US Department of Transportation. “Our office is constantly working to help keep the skies safe for theft and protect the traveling public from unnecessary dangers. The charges brought today demonstrate our unwavering commitment to working with our law enforcement and prosecution partners to hold those who put lives at risk to account.

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