A former chief technical pilot for Boeing has been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in the Northern District of Texas, USA for allegedly supplying false information to the FAA during the 737 Max’s certification program.
Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of wire fraud and 10 years in prison on each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.
According to court documents, Mark Forkner allegedly deceived the FAA with materially false, inaccurate and incomplete information about the 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
This led to the omission of information in FAA documents and information about MCAS, which meant manuals and pilot-training materials produced for US-based airlines lacked any reference to MCAS.
In January Boeing paid US$2.5 billion to settle a similar criminal charge for conspiring to defraud the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group about its 737 Max aircraft
Investigations led by regulators identified the MCAS as the main cause of the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, which resulted in the tragic loss of 346 lives in 2018 and 2019. The MCAS, which was added to the 737 because of the heavier engines used in the Max version, automatically compensates when it senses the aircraft is stalling by turning the nose of the plane down and incorrectly operated when the crashes occurred.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said, “Forkner allegedly abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS during the FAA evaluation and certification of the 737 MAX and from Boeing’s US ‑based airline customers.
“In doing so, he deprived airlines and pilots from knowing crucial information about an important part of the airplane’s flight controls.
“Regulators like the FAA serve a vital function to ensure the safety of the flying public. To anyone contemplating criminally impeding a regulator’s function, this indictment makes clear that the Justice Department will pursue the facts and hold you accountable.”
The lead counsel for the families affected by second Boeing 737 MAX Crash, Robert A. Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices in Chicago said, “The indictment of Boeing’s former chief pilot for deceiving federal authorities about the 737 MAX is a corporate whitewash.
“The tragic loss of 157 lives could have been prevented had Mark Forkner spoken up but he certainly didn’t act alone.
“This inexcusable type of corporate greed goes far beyond the chief pilot at the company that haphazardly made these aircraft in an effort to increase profits,” Clifford said. “I implore the DOJ to go further in its criminal investigation and indictments to determine just how far the deception went and who was at the bottom of it all.
“I think they will find many corporate officials took part in withholding critical information from the certifying agency. A deep-dive criminal investigation is owed to these families who gave the ultimate sacrifice and to the flying public that continues to buy tickets on the MAX aircraft.”
The FAA AEG (Aircraft Evaluation Group) was responsible for determining the minimum level of pilot training required for a pilot to fly the 737 Max in the USA and based this evaluation on the nature and extent of the differences between the 737 Max and the prior version of Boeing’s 737 airplane, the 737 Next Generation (NG).
The FAA AEG published the 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board Report (FSB Report), which included among other things, the FAA AEG’s differences-training determination for the 737 MAX, as well as information about differences between the 737 MAX and the 737 NG.
According to the court documents, during November 2016 Forkner discovered information about an important change to MCAS and allegedly intentionally withheld this information and deceived the FAA AEG about MCAS. Because of his alleged deceit, the FAA AEG deleted all reference to MCAS from the final version of the 737 Max FSB Report published in July 2017.
As a result, pilots flying the 737 Max for Boeing’s US‑based airline customers were not provided any information about MCAS in their manuals and training materials. Forkner sent copies of the 737 MAX FSB Report to Boeing’s U.S.-based 737 MAX airline customers, but withheld from these customers important information about MCAS and the 737 MAX FSB Report evaluation process.
The Chicago field offices of the FBI and DOT-OIG (Department of Transport Office of Inspector General) are investigating the case, with the assistance of other FBI and DOT-OIG field offices.