Former Boeing test pilot Mark Forkner has been acquitted of deceiving the FAA about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) on the Boeing 737 MAX. A jury took less than two hours to reach the verdict in the federal district court in Fort Worth on Wednesday. Forkner, the former chief technical pilot on the MAX certification project, originally faced six felony charges, but two were dropped before the trial. The jury apparently accepted Forkner’s defense that Boeing engineers didn’t tell him about changes to the software that made it able to more vigorously engage the flight controls, a key factor in two fatal crashes that killed 346 people. He also claimed he was scapegoated by both the FAA and Boeing who were trying to avoid blame for the crashes.
“We are very grateful that this jury and judge were so smart, so fair, so independent, that they saw through it,” defense attorney David Gerger said after the verdict. Prosecutors alleged that Forkner misled FAA officials about MCAS so they wouldn’t require expensive type training for pilots already flying earlier versions of the 737, saving Boeing about $1 million per airplane. Central to the prosecution’s case were internal emails including one in which Forkner told a colleague he had unknowingly misled the FAA.