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Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former Boeing Pilot in 737 MAX Crash Case


A federal grand jury in Texas indicted a former

Boeing Co.

BA -1.96%

pilot for allegedly deceiving federal regulators during the plane maker’s development of the 737 MAX before two of the jets crashed, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Mark A. Forkner,

49 years old, was charged with deceiving the Federal Aviation Administration regarding training materials related to a flight-control system that was later blamed for playing a large role the crashes, the Justice Department said. The crashes occurred in late 2018 and early 2019 and took 346 lives.

An attorney for Mr. Forkner couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

David Gerger,

an attorney for Mr. Forkner, has previously said that Mr. Forkner, a pilot and Air Force veteran, wouldn’t endanger pilots or passengers and his communications with regulators were honest.

Prosecutors alleged Mr. Forkner provided the agency with “materially false, inaccurate, and incomplete information” about the flight-control systems known as MCAS.

As a result of the alleged deception, the FAA’s training specialists and airline pilot manuals and training materials lacked any reference to the system, prosecutors said.

A new type of defect on Boeing’s Dreamliner aircraft surfaced recently, the latest in a series of issues that have led to a halt in deliveries. The company now has more than $25 billion of jets in its inventory. WSJ’s Andrew Tangel explains how Boeing got here. Photo: Reuters

Mr. Forkner allegedly “abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS,” Assistant Attorney General

Kenneth Polite Jr.

said in a statement. Such actions deprived airlines and pilots from having crucial information about an important part of the airplane’s flight controls, he said.

Boeing and the FAA declined to comment. The case against Mr. Forkner marks the first indictment since the two MAX crashes, the first of which occurred three years ago this month.

The automated MCAS system has been blamed for putting the two Boeing 737 MAX jets into fatal nosedives. Accident investigators also cited airline and crew missteps. The accidents prompted a nearly two-year global grounding of the fleet and created the most serious corporate crisis in Boeing’s history. The FAA approved the aircraft to fly again late last year.

The MCAS system was initially designed to activate during certain flight conditions that airline pilots wouldn’t normally encounter. During the aircraft’s development, Boeing engineers expanded the system’s authority and the conditions that would trigger it.

In chat messages released by congressional investigators, Mr. Forkner suggested that he hadn’t told regulators that Boeing engineers made the MCAS system more potent and that pilots would be more likely to encounter it during flight. Mr. Forkner suggested in the messages that he hadn’t known about changes to the flight-control system. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” he said in one 2016 message.

(more to come)

Write to Andrew Tangel at [email protected]

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