DALLAS — A Boeing pilot involved in testing the 737 Max aircraft was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury of deceiving safety regulators who were evaluating the plane, which was later involved in two deadly crashes.
The Indictment accuses Mark A. Forkner of giving the Federal Aviation Administration inaccurate and incomplete information about an automated flight control system that played a role in the crashes, which killed 346 people
Prosecutors said that because of Forkner's alleged deception, the system was not mentioned in key FAA documents, pilot manuals or pilot training material supplied to airlines.
The Flight Control system automatically pushed down the noses of Max jets that crashed in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019. The pilots tried unsuccessfully to regain control but both planes went into nosedives seconds after taking off.
Most pilots were unaware of the system, called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, until after the first crash.
Forkner, 49, was charged with two counts of wire fraud involving aircraft parts in interstate commerce and four counts of fraud. Federal prosecutors say he is expected to make his first official appearance in court on Friday in Fort Worth, Texas. If convicted on all counts, he could face a sentence of up to 100 years in prison.
Boeing BA, designed the Max to be a more fuel-efficient version of the venerable 737 that could compete with a plane designed by European rival Airbus AIR. Flight control system was meant to make the Max fly like previous 737 s despite the tendency for the nose to tilt upward under some circumstances.
Congressional investigators have suggested that Forkner and Boeing downplayed the power of the system to avoid a requirement that pilots undergo extensive and expensive training, which would increase airline costs to operate the aircraft.
Forkner, acting U.S. attorney for the northern district of Texas, said Chad Meacham tried to make Boeing pay by withholding critical information from regulators.
His callous decision to mislead the FAA hampered the agency s ability to protect the flying public and left pilots in the loop, lacking information about certain 737 MAX flight controls, Meacham said in a statement.
Boeing agreed to a $2.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department for the company s actions to end a criminal investigation into the state's actions. Boeing said in the settlement last year that employees had misled regulators about the safety of Max. The settlement included a fine, compensation for airlines that purchased the plane and money for families of the passengers killed in the crashes.
Dozens of parents of passengers are suing Boeing in federal court in Chicago.