Former Boeing test pilot Mark Forkner, 49, will be in court today (Oct. 15) in Dallas facing indictment on charges from the U.S. Department of Justice [DOJ] related to deceiving the FAA about the 737 Max’s Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). The MCAS is essentially a software suite designed to artificially render the Max’s handling qualities similar to those of previous models. The indictment alleges that Forkner withheld damning flight test information from FAA officials as part of an effort to speed certification of the Max, which was certified in 2017.
A pair of 737 Max jet crashes within five months of each other in late 2018 and early 2019 killed 346 people. MCAS anomalies were cited in both accidents, leading to worldwide grounding of the Max, which is just now beginning its return to service.
An October 2019 story in The Washington Post revealed a damning series of pre-certification internal social media messages from Forkner to colleagues and FAA officials revealing his concern over “egregious” changes to the MCAS flight parameters that he discovered in tests, on the one hand, and his plans to, nevertheless, be “jedi-mind tricking regulators” around the world to accept lower levels of training for Max line pilots. He wrote to one FAA official about removing any reference to MCAS from the pilots’ flight manuals: “Delete MCAS, recall we decided we weren’t going to cover it [because it is] way outside the normal operating envelope.”
The lead counsel of the law firm representing the families of passengers killed in one of the crashes responded to news of the charges. Robert Clifford, founder and senior partner of Clifford Law Offices, wrote in a statement yesterday: “The indictment today of Boeing’s former chief pilot for deceiving federal authorities about the 737 Max is a corporate whitewash … The tragic loss of 157 lives could have been prevented had Mark Forkner spoken up but he certainly didn’t act alone … I implore the DOJ to go further in its criminal investigation and indictments to determine just how far the deception went and who was at the bottom of it all.”