Pilot Acquitted In MAX Case

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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.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Forkner life is still ruined. It is likely he will never work in any significant aviation employment in the future as companies will deem him too toxic to hire.

    However the CEO of Boeing at the time gets to ride off into the sunset with a sixty million dollar payout and no accountability…..

  2. I am so happy that Mr. Forkner was acquitted. The government has tried this tactic many times when they were in the wrong and they needed a scapegoat to blame. I know this because it happened to me. The DOJ has an unlimited supply of taxpayers funds to try a case, but most of their attorneys are bungling fools – they couldn’t get a real job, so they work for the government. Since the jury didn’t take long, the government obviously did not have a real case.

    • It’s not only the lawyers who are bumbling idiots. There are also government officials in the same category — can’t get a job anywhere else so they work for the government. It certainly happens in Canada.

  3. I’m GUESSING with NO EVIDENCE that it is probably more along the lines of:

    “You were economical with the truth as you were a company man. The Government may have had a point. But they didn’t go after the management who allowed the company to buy their way out with a stiff fine. So the Justice Department went after someone down the line. We the jury find that distasteful.”

    In the US binary verdict system it has to be “not guilty”. A jury in Scotland might have returned the third choice available – “not proven”. In essence – “you were involved but not enough hard evidence for guilty”.

    Like I say – a COMPLETE GUESS

    • In the US, “not guilty” does not mean “innocent”. It means the government hasn’t proven it’s case. There’s is no “innocent” verdict in the US system. This is because our system of jurisprudence requires the state to prove it’s case. We just have an unfortunate naming convention that conflates “not guilty” with “not proven”.

  4. Forkner was careless enough to send texts and emails that according to DOJ “proved” that he was deceiving the FAA, as if someone intending to deceive does not know how to keep quiet. I am sure the jury could see the big picture. He was sending these messages because he was trying to vent and reflect upon the pressure that was placed on him by skilled bureaucrats, who would never send an email that could be used against them.

    And yes, the DOJ is pathetic. They knew that the greed motivated decisions were made elsewhere in multiple places high inside Boeing, but they had no evidence, so they decided to victimize Forkner. This is similar to when an adult gangster puts the dope into a teenager’s pocket just before the cops show up, so that the cops have somebody with “evidence” to arrest to bolster their arrest statistics.

    • Don’t know this guy’s age or background, but I’m about 50 and know that anything put in email can end up on the interwebs in a heartbeat. And so do my colleagues. And then there was a case involving Google I think where they were arguing that draft documents with track changes on aren’t admissible in court, but it was ruled they are. And then we get annual records training. The net effect of this is that we’ve simply shifted discussions to other media with little or no permanence like a basic phone call on personal devices. And then when we’re ready, we have the conversation for the record that we don’t mind everyone hearing. Maybe this guy is older and digitally naïve. What a shame.

  5. We all have heard that “expensive pilot training” for this 737 version.
    Us Boeing types know that when the trim wheel is running away, select STAB CUTOUT switches
    to off.
    Hopefully someone out there can inform me as to how this can be expensive.
    Thank you – in advance.

  6. During my first day on the job for Cessna’s Radio Division (in the early 80’s), I was introduced to various people at the plant. One was an employee who signed off our radios for the FAA. (I don’t remember his title. Some kind of “Designee.”)

    I remember being shocked. Even as a young man I could see the inherent conflict of interest with that job.