Friday, October 15, 2021

A Case Of MAXimum Punishment

The Justice Department needed a head to roll on Boeing's 737 MAX airliners considering the company's flawed aeronautical designs ended up killing hundreds in to separate crashes. It looks like that particular cranium will belong to Boeing's former chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner.

A federal grand jury in Texas on Thursday indicted Mark Forkner, 49, Boeing’s former chief technical pilot on the 737 MAX program, charging him with fraud.

This is the only criminal charge so far resulting from a Department of Justice investigation into two deadly MAX crashes that killed 346 people in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

The government reached a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with Boeing in January, in which the company acknowledged fraud and criminal misconduct during certification of the MAX.

The DPA slapped Boeing with a relatively small fine of $244 million and specifically exonerated Boeing’s senior management by stating that they had not facilitated the misconduct. However, the agreement cited Forkner and his deputy as being involved.

Thursday’s indictment alleges Forkner deceived both the Federal Aviation Administration 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.”

A trial could shed more light on why flaws in the MCAS were overlooked during certification.

Forkner is charged with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of wire fraud.

If convicted, he 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.

He is expected to make his initial court appearance Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. Forkner’s attorney David Gerger said Thursday he will have no comment before then.

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
Pilots very much did have to deal with the MCAS system and those who didn't know how to use it potentially got their planes "augered into the ground" as Chuck Yeager would say. Ignoring the system in order to sell the plane, well, the Boeing executives may have gotten away with it, but it doesn't look like Forkner will.  He's headed for the rest of his life in prison quite possibly, and I'm not exactly losing sleep over it.

Not like I'm flying anytime soon anyhow.

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