737-Max-Crisis: Charges against ex-test pilots from Boeing

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In the course of the investigation into the Boeing 737 Max breakdown aircraft, the former chief test pilot of the machine was indicted. He is accused of having provided US authorities with incorrect and incomplete information about the assistance system, which played a central role in two crashes of the plane. Therefore, airlines and their pilots have not been informed about the functionality of the software, according to the fraud charges published on Thursday.

The system, called MCAS, was intended to help the pilots of the 737 Max keep the aircraft in the correct position. It became necessary because the machine is a modified version of the 737 from the 1960s. The Max got bigger engines – and in some cases this allowed the aircraft’s nose to go up. The software should then take countermeasures and make slight corrections. But as it turned out, MCAS could intervene in other situations and steer the machine downwards. In the two crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and in Ethiopia in 2019, pilots were not prepared for it.

346 people were killed in the accidents. The 737 Max was banned from flying for 20 months during the investigation. The crisis cost Boeing billions. Investigations against the company itself had been settled with a $ 2.5 billion settlement at the end of President Donald Trump’s tenure.

Boeing originally told the FAA that MCAS should only intervene in a rare situation – when the aircraft is making sharp turns at high speed. But in November 2016, chief test pilot Mark Forkner found in the flight simulator that the system was active even at a significantly lower flight speed. “So I lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” Forkner then wrote to a colleague in the company’s internal chat. This exchange had been known since Boeing published it in 2019.

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Forkner has since been in the sights of the investigators. He is now being charged in the indictment, after the surprise during the simulator flight with a colleague, he verified that the system works at lower speeds – and kept this from the regulators. The consequence was that MCAS was not mentioned in the documents for training the pilots for the Max version, emphasized the prosecutors. The FAA only became aware of the system after the crashes.

There was initially no reaction to the indictment from the ex-test pilot or his lawyers. In response to earlier criticism after the chats were published, they had emphasized that Forkner had never knowingly put passengers and crew members at risk.

The charges include double aircraft parts fraud and quadruple telecommunications fraud. The procedure is called USA v. Mark A. Forkner and is pending in the US Federal District Court for Northern Texas under Ref. 4-21CR-268-0. The presumption of innocence applies to the defendant.


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