Boeing Pilot Charged For Misleading The FAA On The 737 MAX

A former chief technical pilot for Boeing has been indicted for fraud by a grand jury in Texas. Mark Forkner is accused of giving false information to the Federal Aviation Administration and will face the court later today on two counts of the same charge. If convicted, Forkner could face up to 100 years in prison.

737 MAX 8
Mark Forkner is facing a number of charges. Photo: Boeing

Pilot indicted

A grand jury in the Northern District of Texas has indicted a former Boeing chief technical pilot on charges of fraud. Mark Forkner allegedly deceived the FAA during their evaluation of the Boeing 737 MAX, something that had the worst possible consequences.

Specifically, Forkner is accused of providing information about the notorious Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that was ‘materially false, inaccurate and incomplete.’ The Department of Justice states that these actions meant that the FAA had no reference to MCAS, therefore airplane manuals and pilot training manuals did not contain any information with respect to MCAS.

Texas northern district’s acting US attorney, Chad Meacham, said in a statement,

“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators. 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.”

Boeing Pilot Charged For Misleading The FAA On The 737 MAX
Problems with the MCAS are considered to be the root cause of the crashes. Photo: Getty Images

The MCAS is attributed to the two fatal crashes of the 737 MAX in 2018, near Jakarta, and in 2019, near Ejere, Ethiopia. In both instances, faulty readings from the sensors informing the MCAS caused the system to point the nose of the airplane downward. Pilots fought with the controls, but as they had no information on MCAS or how to disable it, they were unable to regain control.

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Jedi mind tricks

In text messages released in late 2019, Forkner complained in rude and colorful messages about Boeing and, particularly, about MCAS. He bragged of using ‘Jedi mind tricks’ on the regulators, alluding to his withholding of information. He also famously said that the MAX aircraft was “designed by clowns, who in turn are supervised by monkeys.”

FAA 737 MAX airworthiness directive MCAS
Forkner’s comments were embarrassing to Boeing. Photo: Air Canada

Pressing home the importance of the indictment, Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division stated,

“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.”    

Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts alongside four charges of wire fraud. He is expected to appear in court for the first time today at Fort Worth in Texas. Should he be convicted of the charges, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, plus ten years for each count of fraud involving aircraft parts. Therefore, Forkner could be looking at a total sentence of as much as 100 years.