WASHINGTON, Oct. 14 (Reuters) – A former chief technical pilot at Boeing Co (BN) was charged with fraud Thursday for misleading federal regulators assessing the company’s 737 MAX jet, hampering the ability to protect airline passengers airways and leaving “pilots in the lurch,” the US Department of Justice said.
Mark Forkner, 49, has been indicted by a grand jury in Texas on six counts of conspiring to defraud Boeing’s U.S. airline customers in order to obtain tens of millions of dollars for Boeing, the report said. government.
Boeing declined to comment. A Forkner lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the indictment, Forkner, largely in the run-up to the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to approve the 737 MAX in 2017, provided the FAA Aircraft Assessment Panel with “material information. false, inaccurate and incomplete ”on a new part of the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight controls, called the Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).
MCAS, a software feature designed to automatically lower the nose of the aircraft under certain conditions, has been linked to two fatal 737 MAX crashes over a five-month period that killed 346 people and led the FAA to immobilize the aircraft. for 19 months, an action that was lifted in November 2020.
“In an attempt to save money for Boeing, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, the acting US lawyer for North Texas. “His ruthless choice to mislead the FAA hampered the agency’s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots embarrassed, lacking information on some of the 737 MAX’s flight controls.”
The FAA declined to comment.
In January, Boeing agreed to pay more than $ 2.5 billion in fines and compensation after reaching a deferred prosecution agreement with the US Department of Justice over the MAX crashes, which cost more than $ 20. billion dollars to Boeing.
The January deal blamed Boeing’s conduct and said it held America’s largest aircraft manufacturer “responsible for the criminal misconduct of its employees.”
In January, Boeing admitted in court documents that, through two former employees, it had deceived the FAA about MCAS.
Prosecutors noted that a key FAA document made no reference to MCAS, and as a result, aircraft manuals and pilot training materials for US-based airlines also lacked a reference.
A November 2016 post from Forkner said he was working on “the spirit of the jedi to get regulators to accept training that I have been accepted by the FAA.”
If the FAA had required pilot simulator training for MAX pilots, Boeing would have had to pay Southwest Airlines (LUV.N) nearly $ 400 million to offset simulator pilot training requirements, according to a report from the 2020 US House of Representatives.
In 2019, the FAA required simulator training before pilots could resume flying the MAX.
Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud. He is scheduled to appear in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
If convicted, he faces decades in prison.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler and Rosalba O’Brien
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