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Former Boeing 737 MAX chief test pilot found not guilty of misleading FAA

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Mark Forkner, the former chief technical pilot of the Boeing 737 MAX, was found not guilty of deceiving US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorities about a flight-control system that was later determined to have played a role in two deadly disasters in 2018 and 2019, killing 346 people.

On March 23, 2022, a jury in the Northern District Court of Texas acquitted Forkner on all counts after less than two hours of deliberation, according to US media reporting of the trial.

“While we are disappointed with the outcome, we accept the jury’s verdict,” said Joshua Stueve, a spokesperson for the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

Boeing and the FAA have been contacted for comment by AeroTime. The FAA did not respond to a request for comment.

In October 2021, the Department of Justice charged Forkner with two charges of alleged interstate commerce fraud involving aviation parts and four counts of wire fraud. A judge dismissed two accusations concerning aircraft parts in February 2022.

The DOJ indictment alleged that “Forkner provided the agency with materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information about a new part of the flight controls for the Boeing 737 MAX called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS)”.

Boeing noticed that larger engines tended to push the 737 MAX’s nose higher during certain maneuvers during the 737 MAX test flights. As a result, the MCAS flying system was created to prevent the plane’s tendency to tilt up.

However, the MCAS was shown to be defective, and the fact that it operated on non-redundant sensors was regarded as the primary cause of the Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashes.

In October 2019, the FAA turned over a set of damaging emails between Forkner and the regulator to the US Congress. In an email sent in January 2017, Forkner reportedly told the agency that the company would delete a reference to MCAS from the flight operator’s manual and training course “because it is outside the normal operating envelope”.

In another email to an FAA employee, dated November 2016, Forkner said he was working on “Jedi-mind tricking regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA”.

Forkner admitted in a 2016 interview with Boeing employee Patrik Gustavsson that he may have “unknowingly” misled to the FAA regarding MCAS behavior.

The FAA cleared Boeing’s 737 MAX in 2017, allowing the plane to fly commercially.

Boeing was charged with conspiracy in January 2021 for suppressing information about MCAS throughout the aircraft certification process. Two employees, including Forkner, were identified as the principal perpetrators, with the deception made possible by the company’s “culture of concealment.” The business agreed to pay $2.5 billion to resolve the complaint.

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