A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted a former Boeing pilot on charges he deceived federal safety regulators about the 737 Max jetliner, two of which were involved in deadly crashes, to save tens of millions of dollars for the airplane manufacturer.
Mark A. Forkner was charged with giving false and incomplete information to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regarding the 737's flight control system, the Department of Justice said in a press release. Forkner was the chief technical pilot on Boeing's MAX program.
Prosecutors accused Forkner of learning of important changes to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System flight control system in 2016, and withholding this information from the FAA. Due to Forkner's actions, prosecutors alleged, the system was not mentioned in training materials.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas, said. “His callous choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the lurch, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls. The Department of Justice will not tolerate fraud – especially in industries where the stakes are so high."
Forkner is expected to make his first court appearance on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas, according to the DOJ.
In 2018, a Boeing 737 operated by Indonesian airline Lion Air crashed 13 minutes after departure, killing all 189 people on board. An investigation later attributed the cause of the crash to a combination of design flaws in the plane and a lack of training given to pilots on responding to malfunctions.
In 2019, 157 people died when a 737 operated by Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after takeoff.
Following these two crashes, numerous countries grounded the Boeing 737 aircraft, including the entire European Union.
At the beginning of 2021, the Department of Justice fined Boeing more than $2.5 billion for allegedly hiding information from investigators. The company was charged with “conspiracy to defraud the United States” due to allegations that employees hid information from regulators.