MIAMI – A US federal grand jury has charged a former Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot with deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The indictment from the federal grand jury in the Northern District of Texas, US, alleges the pilot swindled the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group (FAA AEG) during its assessment of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft. The charge also alleges the pilot defrauded Boeing’s US-based airline customers to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing.

Mark A. Forkner, 49, previously of Washington State and now of Keller, Texas, is accused of deceiving the FAA AEG during the agency’s examination and certification of Boeing’s 737 MAX jet, according to criminal records.

MCAS overview. Image: Boeing

MCAS Information: the 737 MAX FSB Report

According to the indictment, Forkner provided the agency with materially false, incorrect, and incomplete information about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, a new part of the flying controls for the Boeing 737 MAX (MCAS).

Because of his alleged dishonesty, the FAA AEG issued a critical document that didn’t mention MCAS. As a result, airplane manuals and pilot-training materials for US-based airlines omitted any mention of MCAS, depriving Boeing’s US-based airline clients of crucial information when making and completing choices to spend tens of millions of dollars for 737 MAX jets.

Boeing began developing and marketing the 737 MAX in or around June 2011, according to court records. Based on the nature and degree of the differences between the 737 MAX and the previous version of Boeing’s 737 aircraft, the 737 Next Generation, the FAA AEG was tasked with evaluating the minimum level of pilot training required for a pilot to fly the 737 MAX for a U.S.-based airline (NG).

The FAA AEG published the 737 MAX Flight Standardization Board Report (FSB Report) at the conclusion of the review, which included 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.

All airlines based in the United States were expected to use the material in the 737 MAX FSB Report to prepare their pilots to fly the plane.

Forkner led the 737 MAX Flight Technical Team and was responsible for providing the FAA AEG with true, accurate, and complete information about differences between the 737 MAX and the 737 NG for the FAA AEG’s evaluation, preparation, and publication of the 737 MAX FSB Report as Boeing’s 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot.

Lion Air HS-LSH Boeing 737-9 MAX. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

MCAS Change Omission, 737 MAX Crashes

Forkner obtained information on an essential change to MCAS in November of 2016. Rather than sharing information about the change with the FAA AEG, Forkner is accused of withholding it and deceiving the FAA AEG about MCAS.

The FAA AEG removed all references to MCAS from the final version of the 737 MAX FSB Report issued in July 2017 as a result of Forkner’s alleged deception. As a result, pilots flying the 737 MAX for Boeing’s US airline clients did not get any MCAS information in their manuals or training materials.

Forkner supplied copies of the 737 MAX FSB Report to Boeing’s 737 MAX airline customers in the United States but suppressed critical information about MCAS and the 737 MAX FSB Report evaluation process from these customers.

The FAA AEG discovered the information about the important change to MCAS that Forkner had withheld on or about Oct. 29, 2018, after the FAA AEG learned that Lion Air Flight 610 — a 737 MAX — had crashed near Jakarta, Indonesia, shortly after takeoff and that MCAS was operating in the moments before the crash.

It was at this time that the FAA AEG began examining and analyzing MCAS after the discovery of this information.

While the FAA AEG was still studying MCAS on or about March 10, 2019, the evaluation group learned that Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 — a 737 MAX — had crashed shortly after takeoff near Ejere, Ethiopia and that MCAS was active in the moments leading up to the incident. All 737 MAX planes were grounded in the United States shortly after the crash.

Boeing 737 MAX 10 at Renton readying for first take-off. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Charges and Penalties

Forkner is charged with two charges of interstate commerce fraud involving airplane parts and four counts of wire fraud. He is scheduled to appear in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey L. Cureton of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail for each act of wire fraud and ten years in prison for each count of interstate commerce fraud involving aviation parts. After considering the US Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory criteria, a federal district court judge will impose any sentence.

An indictment is nothing more than a charge, and all defendants are deemed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in court.

The case is being investigated by the FBI and the DOT-OIG field offices in Chicago, with support from other FBI and DOT-OIG field offices.

Featured image: Boeing 737 MAX 10 maiden flight. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways