A former Boeing chief technical pilot was indicted by a federal grand jury in Texas for fraud Thursday for allegedly deceiving air safety regulators by withholding information on a new component of the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight control system that was a key factor in two crashes within a year that killed 346 people.
The Department of Justice alleges that Mark Forkner withheld new information from the Federal Aviation Administration Aircraft Evaluation Group that he received in 2016 on an expansion of the scope of flight control software called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) to operate at lower speeds than it had previously been designed to.
Because of this, the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group determined that pilots did not need to receive any training on the new feature of the latest version of Boeing’s bestselling jet, and removed references to MCAS from a report recommending training procedures, which the Justice Department said “deprived airlines and pilots from knowing crucial information” about how to control the plane.
Crash investigators have determined that MCAS was activated during two 737 MAX crashes that occurred in 2018 and 2019, pushing the planes into a dive that the pilots were unable to counter.
Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud relating to aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud.
An October 2018 crash near Jakarta, Indonesia, of a Lion Air jet, which killed 189 people on board, led the FAA AEG to learn that MCAS was operating beyond the limited circumstances that Boeing had told the agency it had been designed to. Before the agency could complete its investigation into the crash, an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crashed in March 2019 near Ejere, Ethiopia, killing 157 people, and leading air safety regulators worldwide to ground the plane. The Justice Department charged Boeing in January with conspiracy to defraud the FAA. Boeing admitted that two of its technical pilots had deceived the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group on MCAS, and it agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion to settle the case.
The indictment comes as Boeing deals with the discovery of yet another defect on its 787 Dreamliner, involving titanium parts that were not manufactured correctly at Leonardo SpA factories over the past few years. The defect has led to an extension of delivery delays to airlines that has bedeviled the company.