A former chief technical pilot for Boeing has been indicted on several counts of fraud for allegedly deceiving the FAA and Boeing's airline customers by withholding information about the MAX’s new flight-control system — called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS.
“In an attempt to save Boeing money, Forkner allegedly withheld critical information from regulators,” said Chad Meacham, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas. “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.”
Forkner’s role with the MAX from the jet’s launch in 2011 through its certification in 2017 was to win approval from the FAA and regulators around the world for the MAX’s technical manuals and pilot training on the new airplane.
He was required to identify for regulators all important differences between the controls on the MAX versus the previous 737 model.
Forkner told the FAA that pilots would never have to deal with MCAS and didn’t need to know about it. He persuaded them to remove all mention of it from the pilot handbook.
The Department of Justice said that around November 2016, while Boeing was flight-testing the MAX ahead of certification, Forkner discovered Boeing engineers had made an important change to the MCAS software, so that it operated at certain lower-speed flight conditions instead of only in a high-speed turn as originally intended.
On discovering the change, Forkner in an instant message to his deputy made clear he realized that information he had previously given the FAA was no longer accurate. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” Forkner wrote.
However, Forkner never went back to the FAA to correct the misinformation.
Forkner became notorious in 2019 after Boeing turned over to the FAA a series of emails and instant message exchanges between Forkner and his deputy, Patrik Gustavsson.
In these exchanges, Forkner bragged about how he had “jedi mind tricked” airlines into choosing the minimum pilot training option.
Forkner described how he persuaded Lion Air officials who wanted to train their pilots on MAX simulators to drop the idea, telling them this was “a difficult and unnecessary training burden for your airline.”
Forkner in private messages then mocked the Lion Air representatives for their “stupidity” in asking for such training, and boasted that his efforts to dissuade them had saved Boeing “a sick amount of $$$$.”
Lion Air Flight JT610 was the first MAX to crash in October 2018, killing 189 people.
If convicted, Forkner faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of wire fraud and 10 years in prison on each count of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce.