A federal grand jury has returned an indictment charging a former Boeing chief technical pilot of “deceiving” regulators over evaluations made on the 737 MAX aircraft, which led to two fatal crashes.
The indictment from the Northern District of Texas revealed 49-year-old Mark A Forkner provided the Federal Aviation Administration with “false, inaccurate and incomplete” information about flight control updates for the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
Two crashes in 2018 with Lion Air, and early 2019 with Ethiopian Airlines resulted in the death of 346 passengers and air staff, which led to the global grounding of the aircraft for 20 months.
The MCAS was deemed the root of the crashes, which is intended to activate manual flight control law, enhancing the pitch stability of the aircraft.
During flight, the system is triggered by a sensor, however, in this instance, the single sensor malfunctioned.
When the MAX was being developed in 2011, several updates were made to the aircraft, to which Forkner was obliged to disclose.
The court documents revealed in 2016, Forkner allegedly discovered information about changes to the MCAS, but withheld it to obtain millions of dollars for the planemaker.
“Forkner allegedly abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“In doing so, he deprived airlines and pilots from knowing crucial information about an important part of the airplane’s flight controls,” Polite Jr added.
He said if anyone is contemplating criminally impeding a regulator’s function, the indictment shows the Justice Department will “pursue facts” and “hold you accountable”.
Forkner’s alleged actions were based on depriving customers of “important information” when penning aircraft deals, which saved Boeing millions of dollars, the court documents revealed.
In June this year, the FAA mandated additional inspections on all Boeing 737 MAX MCAS control systems.
In December 2020, Boeing issued a recommendation that all MAX jets were required to be reinspected if they had reached 6,000 flight hours, but the FAA made this an official mandatory safety directive.
The 737 has returned to many airlines after being recertified in late June but has continued to face scrutiny over new details of the crashes surfacing.
Forkner is expected to make his initial court appearance on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
He is being charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud, the US Department of Justice said.
If convicted, Forkner will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, and 10 years for each count involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.