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ex-test pilot charged with misleading US air authority

American justice indicted, Thursday, October 14, a former Boeing test pilot, accused of having misled the agency overseeing aviation during the certification process of the 737 MAX, two of which crashed in 2018 and 2019 resulting in 346 deaths.

Mark Forkner “Provided the agency with false, inaccurate and incomplete information on a new part of the Boeing 737 MAX flight control system”, called MCAS, at the origin of the two accidents, explains the ministry of justice in a press release.

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The ex-test pilot was formally charged by a grand jury in Texas with two counts of “fraud involving aircraft parts”, and four counts of “electronic communication fraud”. If found guilty, he could theoretically face up to 100 years in prison.

“Do not tolerate such fraud”

According to prosecution documents, Mr. Forkner discovered in 2016 information about a major change made to this MCAS software that was supposed to prevent stalls, but he deliberately chose not to share it with the Federal aviation administration (FAA), the civil aviation regulatory authority in the United States. The latter therefore did not include a reference to MCAS in an essential document, and indirectly in the training manuals intended for pilots.

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Mr. Forkner is also accused of having conspired at the expense of Boeing customers who bought 737 MAXs by depriving them of essential information. According to documents published in early 2020, he boasted of being able to deceive his FAA interlocutors to obtain certification for the MCAS anti-stall system.

“Mr. Forkner withheld essential information from the regulator in an attempt to save money for Boeing”, commented Texas federal prosecutor Chad Meacham. “The Ministry of Justice cannot tolerate such fraud, especially in a sector where the stakes are so high”, he added.

The 737 Max was formally approved in March 2017. In October 2018 and March 2019, two accidents respectively involving aircraft of the companies Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines killed 346. During both incidents, the flight control software, the MCAS, got carried away on the basis of erroneous information transmitted by one of the aircraft’s two probes.

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All the other 737 Max were then nailed to the ground for twenty months, before being allowed to fly again at the end of 2020, once the software had been modified. Boeing has admitted its responsibility in the manipulation of the authorities and agreed to pay more than 2.5 billion dollars (about 2.2 billion euros) to settle certain lawsuits.

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