Federal prosecutors will reportedly charge a former 737 MAX test pilot


Former Boeing pilot Mark Forkner could face criminal charges in a matter of weeks

Federal prosecutors are preparing to criminally charge a former Boeing pilot who is suspected of misleading regulators about safety issues during the approval process for the troubled 737 MAX, according to a new report.

Mark Forkner, Boeing’s 737 MAX chief technical pilot during the aircraft’s development, could face charges in the next few weeks, people familiar with the matter told the Wall Street Journal. 

Prosecutors have been probing whether Forkner intentionally lied to the Federal Aviation Administration about the nature of new flight control software on the jet, which suffered two deadly crashes within months, killing 346 people.

Forkner’s attorney David Gerger did not immediately respond to an inquiry from DailyMail.com early on Friday.

Gerger has previously said that his client would never intentionally hide a safety issue. 

A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in a file photo. Forkner was Boeing's 737 MAX chief technical pilot during the aircraft's development

A Boeing 737 MAX airplane lands after a test flight at Boeing Field in a file photo. Forkner was Boeing’s 737 MAX chief technical pilot during the aircraft’s development

‘Mark flew the MAX. His Air Force buddies flew the MAX. He would never put himself, his friends or any passenger in an unsafe plane,’ Gerger told the Journal in 2019. 

It wasn’t immediately clear what criminal charges might be brought against Forkner, but Boeing previously admitted in a settlement that two unnamed employees conspired to defraud the FAA about MAX training issues to benefit themselves and the company. 

Forkner had said he might have unintentionally misled regulators, in a series of internal messages from 2016 that became public in October.

The messages appeared to have been the first publicly known observations that the crucial MCAS anti-stall system behaved erratically during testing before the aircraft entered service.

Malfunctions with the MCAS system, complicated by inadequate training, were implicated in the fatal crashes of Lion Air 610 in 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines 302 just months later.

Wreckage is piled at the crash scene of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 near Bishoftu, Ethiopia

Wreckage is piled at the crash scene of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 near Bishoftu, Ethiopia 

The comments by Forkner in internal messages were among those pinpointed by U.S. lawmakers in hearings in Washington as evidence that Boeing knew about problems with flight control software.

Forkner persuaded regulators to approve excluding details of the new MCAS flight-control system from the 737 MAX’s pilot manuals, according to a U.S. House investigation. 

Boeing benefited from the exclusion, because it reduced the mandatory new training for pilots who had flown older models of the 737, making the upgraded jet more attractive to potential airline customers. 

The MCAS, which kicks in automatically in some flight conditions, is intended to push the nose of the plane down to compensate for a tendency of MAX planes to pitch up due to larger engines.

Investigators believe that when it malfunctioned on the fatal flights, the pilots did not realize that the MCAS was pushing the noses of the planes down, and thus didn’t take steps to disable it. 

Boeing 737 MAX jets are seen grounded last November. The 737 MAX aircraft were only cleared to return to the skies in late 2020

Boeing 737 MAX jets are seen grounded last November. The 737 MAX aircraft were only cleared to return to the skies in late 2020

Prosecutors are also reportedly looking at another former Boeing pilot, Patrik Gustavsson, in their criminal probe.

Forkner left Boeing in 2018 to work for Southwest Airlines, where he worked until last year. 

If he were to be charged, it would mark the first criminal charges against an individual in the two fatal crashes. 

Early this year, Boeing agreed to pay $2.5 billion in fines and settle a criminal charge over claims they defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX.

The settlement attempted to pin the blame on a handful of rogue employees, stating that the misconduct was ‘neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management.’ 

Then in May Boeing also agreed to pay a $17 million fine and improve its supply chain and production practices after installing unapproved equipment on hundreds of planes.

Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft were only cleared to return to the skies in late 2020, and the firm has also suffered from the collapse of the travel industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk