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FAA official testifies ex-Boeing pilot lied about 737 MAX

FORT WORTH, Texas – A Federal Aviation Administration training specialist said a former Boeing Co.

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pilot lied to him about how a 737 MAX flight control system worked before two of the jets crashed three years ago.

Former Boeing pilot Mark Forkner is on trial this week in Fort Worth, Texas on four counts of wire fraud. Federal prosecutors claim Mr. Forkner, who was the plane’s chief technical pilot during the plane’s development, misled his FAA counterpart about the automated cockpit feature, later accused of having sent both jets into deadly dives.

Stacey Klein, Mr Forkner’s FAA counterpart, recounted how the then-Boeing pilot had repeatedly assured him that airline pilots would not encounter the flight control system known as MCAS as it sought its approval to remove its mention of aircraft manuals and training documents that carriers rely on.

“He lied,” Ms. Klein said. If she had known that Boeing engineers had expanded the authority of MCAS to include low-speed, low-altitude conditions, she should have reassessed the level of training the FAA should require of airline pilots.

Mr. Forkner pleaded not guilty. He claims federal prosecutors targeted him as a scapegoat for the MAX crashes in 2018 and 2019, which killed 346 people and disrupted global aviation. Defense attorneys noted that Mr. Forkner is not an engineer and that many other people were involved in the design and certification of the flight control system.

Ms Klein is a key prosecution witness in the Justice Department’s case against Mr Forkner, the only person charged as the agency seeks to hold individuals accountable for the company’s wrongdoings. Boeing has reached a $2.5 billion settlement to resolve its role in the criminal investigation.

When Ms Klein learned that the flight control system had been extended after the first 737 MAX crash in Indonesia in late 2018, Ms Klein said she was upset about her relationship with Mr Forkner, whom she said she had met earlier when he worked at the FAA years ago.

“I was shocked, appalled, sad, angry,” Ms Klein said. “Because I trusted Mark.” She said it was Mr. Forkner’s “job to notify me of design changes” that could increase training requirements for the 737 MAX.

As head of the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group for the 737 MAX, Ms. Klein’s job was to approve training requirements for pilots who fly the plane. Federal prosecutors allege Mr. Forkner deceived Ms. Klein as part of an effort to minimize training requirements for the new plane to help airlines avoid potentially costly simulator training and help the manufacturer planes to earn tens of millions of dollars.

Ms. Klein said she felt Mr. Forkner was sometimes unprofessional when he disagreed with her about potential MAX training requirements. “I felt like he was a bully,” she said.

Ashlee McFarlane, one of Mr Forkner’s defense lawyers, pressed Ms Klein during cross-examination of missed opportunities to learn more about major changes to MCAS, including four meetings she was in invited to attend where other Boeing representatives presented the information.

“I don’t know about those meetings,” Ms. Klein said.

Prosecutors have focused much of their case on Mr. Forkner’s 2016 chat messages about his experience with the MCAS flight control system while in a simulator under development. Mr Forkner told his colleague in a message: ‘So I basically lied to regulators (unknowingly).’

Ms Klein said Mr Forkner told her about the simulator experience, but did not correct her claim that the flight control system only worked in high-speed conditions that pilots would not encounter when flying. a normal flight.

“He said it went well,” Ms. Klein said of Mr. Forkner. “There were a few issues to resolve.”

Defense attorneys for Mr Forkner said Mr Forkner did not lie but rather complained about problems with the simulator and that Boeing engineers left him out of changes to the control system flight.

Ms. Klein, in cross-examination, acknowledged that “it is very common” for pilots like Mr. Forkner to experience such simulator problems. And she acknowledged that it sometimes seemed like she had more information than Mr. Forkner on aspects of the MAX’s development.

Write to Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com

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Appeared in the March 22, 2022 print edition as “FAA Staffer Testifies Ex-Boeing Pilot Lied”.


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