US justice indicted Thursday a former Boeing test pilot, accused of having misled the aviation regulator in the United States during the certification process of the 737 MAX, two of which crashed causing 346 dead.
Mark Forkner, 49, “provided the agency with false, inaccurate and incomplete information on a new part of the Boeing 737 MAX’s flight control system,” the MCAS, justifies the Justice Department in a statement .
The regulator, the FAA, had therefore not demanded a reference in the training of pilots in MCAS, software supposed to prevent the plane from diving down and involved in the two accidents.
Boeing has already acknowledged its responsibility in the manipulation of the authorities and agreed in January to pay more than $ 2.5 billion to settle certain lawsuits. The aeronautical giant then admitted that two of its employees had misled the FAA. Mark Forkner is the first individual to be prosecuted personally in this case.
Problems in simulator
According to prosecution documents, the official discovered in 2016 an important change made to the MCAS. In a message to a colleague revealed in 2019, he notably indicated that the software made the plane difficult to fly in a simulator.
But he deliberately chose not to share this information with the FAA, which had led the regulator not to require specific training for pilots and not to include a reference to MCAS in training documents.
“Basically, that means I lied to the regulators,” Mark Forkner wrote to his colleague. The official also boasted of being able to deceive his FAA interlocutors to obtain certification of the MCAS anti-stall system.
The 737 Max was formally approved in March 2017 and made its first commercial flight a few weeks later. In October 2018, an aircraft from the company Lion Air crashes into the sea shortly after take-off, killing all 189 people on board. In March 2019, the crash of a 737 MAX from Ethiopian Airlines killed 157 people.
During both incidents, the flight control software, the MCAS, got carried away on the basis of erroneous information transmitted by one of the aircraft’s two probes.
It was only in October 2018, after the first crash, that the FAA learned of “key details” about MCAS. All 737 Max were grounded in March 2019 before being re-authorized to fly to the United States at the end of 2020, once the software has been modified.
Mark Forkner, 49, has been formally indicted by a grand jury in Texas with two counts of fraud involving aircraft parts and four counts of electronic communication fraud. If found guilty, he could theoretically face up to 100 years in prison.
“Mr. Forkner withheld critical information from the regulator in an attempt to save money for Boeing,” Texas federal prosecutor Chad Meacham said in the statement. “The Department of Justice cannot tolerate such fraud, especially in a sector where the stakes are so high,” he added. Asked by AFP, Boeing declined to comment.