US Prosecutors Reportedly Plan to Charge Ex-Boeing Employee for Concealing Truth About 737 MAX
© AP Photo / Ted S. WarrenThe first Alaska Airlines passenger flight on a Boeing 737-9 Max airplane taxis for takeoff, Monday, March 1, 2021, on a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle.
© AP Photo / Ted S. Warren
Invasive MCAS technology installed on the jet's onboard computers led to two major airline crashes due to pilots not having been properly instructed on how the technology works. As a result, 346 people died in two incidents and Boeing found itself in one of the biggest crises in its history.
US federal prosecutors are planning to charge a former Boeing chief technical pilot, Mark Forkner, who is thought to have concealed from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) information about certain features of the 737 MAX, the company's top-selling airliner, The Wall Street Journal reported. Charges may reportedly be pressed in the coming weeks, but it is unclear what those charges will be.
According to a US House probe, Forkner persuaded the FAA to exclude information about the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) from the pilot manual. MCAS was blamed for leading to two fatal crashes in one year which saw all 737 MAX planes grounded. As a result, the pilots did not know about the MCAS software, when it engages and how it affects flight, and nor did they receive any training for this feature of the airframe. This led to several pilots making a series of fatal mistakes.
Forkner's exchange in chats, released by congressional investigators, suggested that he hadn't told the FAA about Boeing engineers expanding the MCAS authority and frequency of engagement. He also claimed that he was left in the dark about these changes.
"So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)", Forkner said in one 2016 message.
After learning that MCAS's influence on flight will be more potent than originally expected, however, Forkner failed to notify authorities. A criminal settlement between federal prosecutors and Boeing indicated that two of its employees conspired to trick the FAA into believing that future 737 MAX pilots would not require expensive flight simulator training. The latter could presumably make the jet less attractive to some of the airlines due to additional expense, settlement documents say, but would have made pilots aware of MCAS's functionality and how to disable it should the system make too many corrections to an airliner's course.
The same settlement also included concerns from some Boeing employees who claimed that they felt pressured to make 737 MAX approved for faster pilot training that would not require costly simulator lights. A final agreement between the FAA and Boeing said that the misconduct that led to the disasters was "neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management".
The aviation giant paid a $244 million fine and an additional $2.3 billion as compensation to families of 346 people killed in the October 2018 Lion Air 737 MAX crash and a similar March 2019 crash involving an Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX. In both cases, MCAS, designed to prevent the new jet from stalling by forcing its nose down, took the two airliners into uncontrolled nosedives with pilots unaware of how to switch off the invasive flight correction system.