Boeing 737 Max Test Pilot Found Not Guilty

Prosecutors accused Mark Forkner of withholding 'critical information' from FAA
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 15, 2021 6:20 AM CDT
Updated Mar 23, 2022 6:55 PM CDT
Boeing 737 Max Test Pilot Indicted on Fraud Charges
An Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-9 Max aircraft takes off on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.   (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Update: Mark A. Forkner, a former Boeing test pilot, was acquitted Wednesday of four counts of wire fraud by a Texas jury, the AP reports. Prosecutors said Forkner, the chief technical pilot for the development of the 737 Max, lied to the FAA about how much pilot training would be required by flight control software that's been blamed in two crashes. The crashes killed a combined 346 people. Forkner's was the only criminal case brought against an individual in connection with the 737 Max, per the New York Times. His attorney argued the government's case was "a search for a scapegoat." Our original story from October 2021 follows:

A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max jetliner was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on charges of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly 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 because of Forkner's "alleged deception,” the system was not mentioned in key FAA documents, pilot manuals, or pilot-training material supplied to airlines, the AP reports.

The flight-control system automatically pushed down the noses of Max jets that crashed in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control, but both planes went into nosedives minutes after taking off. Most pilots were unaware of the system, called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, until after the first crash. The Wall Street Journal cites the indictment as alleging that Forkner was aware of Boeing's desire to get FAA approval for a training package that didn't obligate MAX pilots to complete expensive simulator training. Prosecutors allege he thought he would be blamed if that didn't come to pass and there was a negative financial impact for Boeing.

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Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said he is expected to make his first appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison. "In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators," Acting US Attorney Chad E. Meacham said in a statement. "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." (More Boeing stories.)

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