Boeing Technical Pilot Indicted for Fraud in 737 MAX Scandal (Part I of III)

The Justice Department announced the indictment of Mark Forkner, a former Chief Technical Pilot for Boeing for his role in the 737 MAX scandal.  Specifically, Forkner is charged with deceiving the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (“FAA AEG”) relating to Boeing’s 737 MAX airplane and defrauding Boeings U.S.-based airline customers to earn millions of dollars for Boeing.

Boeing’s 737 MAX scandal is tragic and disturbing. In January 2021, Boeing settled with the Justice Department and agreed to enter into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement in exchange for total payments of $2.5 billion.  As you will recall, Boeing’s 737 Max was involved in two crashes in 2018 and 2019 before being grounded. 

In October 2018, Lion Air flight 610 crashed in the Java Sea, killing 189 people, and in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 crashed shortly after takeoff, killing 157 people.  The United States ordered the planes grounded shortly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

As part of the settlement, Boeing admitted that it withheld critical information about the 737 MAX’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System and the impact it had on the plane’s flight control system.  DOJ did not impose an independent compliance monitor, citing Boeing’s remediation efforts, including (1) creation of a permanent aerospace safety committee of the Board of Directors to oversee Boeing’s policies and procedures governing safety and its interactions with the FAA and other government agencies and regulators; (2) creation of a Product and Services Safety organization to strengthen and centralize the safety-related functions that were previously located across the Company; (3) reorganization of Boeing’s engineering function to have all Boeing engineers, as well as the Company’s Flight Technical Team, report through the Company’s chief engineer rather than to the business units; and (4) implementing structural changes to Boeing’s Flight Technical Team to increase the supervision, effectiveness, and professionalism of the Company’s Flight Technical Pilots, including moving the Company’s Flight Technical Team under the same organizational umbrella as the Company’s Flight Test Team, and adopting new policies and procedures and conducting training to clarify expectations and requirements governing communications between the Company’s Flight Technical Pilots and regulatory authorities, including specifically the FAA.

The central misconduct surrounded Boeings 737 MAX MCAS and the misconduct of Forkner and another Flight Technical Pilots who deceived the FAA about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”) that impacted the flight control system of the 737 MAX.

Because of their deception, a critical document published by the FAA lacked information about MCAS, and in turn, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials omitted information about MCAS.  The two tragic plane crashes were the result of the MCAS system and the failure to ensure awareness of and training for use of the MCAS in certain flight situations.

In prior posts about this case, I noted that the two Technical Pilots had not been criminally charged and begged the question of when they would be indicted.  DOJ has now answered this question. 

Forkner has been charged.  His colleague who participated in the same scheme has probably pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate against Forkner in the pending criminal prosecution.

In my prior postings and podcasts on this case, I have reviewed the facts and highlighted the strong evidence surrounding their criminal liability. I will do so again in part of the postings on this important case.

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