The former chief technical pilot of the Boeing 737 Max program was found not guilty of deceiving regulators after less than two hours of jury deliberation.
Not Guilty: Boeing 737 MAX Chief Technical Pilot Spared Jail Time
Mark Forkner faced four counts of wire fraud for what federal prosecutors called a deliberate and willful attempt to mislead regulators and customers over the significance of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) onboard the 737 MAX versus previous models. Forkner’s was accused of deliberately downplaying the system in order to sell more airplanes and dissuade regulators from more scrutiny.
In 2019, I shared a series of text messages that Forkner exchanged with a former Boeing engineer on November 6, 2016, four months before the FAA certified the 737 MAX.
- “MCAS is now active down to M2. It’s running rampant in the sim on me, at least that’s what Vince thinks is happening.”
- “so I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)”
- “I’m levelling off at 4000ft, 230 knots and the plane is trimming itself like craxy, I’m like, WHAT?”
- “granted, I suck at flying, but even this was egregious”
- “they’re all so damn busy, and getting pressure from the program”
- “there are still some real fundamental issues that they claim they’re aware of”
- “nah, I’m locked in my hotel room with an ice cold grey goose, I’ll probably fire off a few dozen inappropriate emails before I call it a night”
- “I’d ask for a job in sales where I can just get paid to drink with customers and lie about how awesome our airplanes are”
The government used these messages to argue Forkner had knowledge he was concealing essential information from regulators. During his trial, however, Forkner’s defense team argued that he was being scapegoated for the two 737 MAX crashes, wasn’t an engineer, and was simply following the instructions from engineer and design teams over MCAS.
A jury agreed and found him not guilty in under two hours. One juror later remarked that the government had woefully failed to prove its case, telling The Wall Street Journal:
“We saw it as more a corporate and regulatory failure of communication.”
Boeing has already agreed to pay the U.S. Department of Justice a $244 million fine and $2.3 billion in compensation to airlines as well as the families of crash victims.
Despite damning text messages, Mark Forkner was found not guilty by a jury of his peers. The former Boeing 737 MAX chief test pilot has avoided jail time and taking the fall for a system which played a role in the crash of two airplanes.