A Boeing 737 Max test pilot has been charged with obstructing US aviation safety regulators, according to the US Department of Justice, and faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Former 737 Max chief engineering pilot Mark Forkner, 49, of Texas, has been charged with “misleading the Federal Aviation Administration’s (AEG) Aircraft Assessment Group” (AEG) and committing an offense. fraud by deceiving Boeing airline customers into believing the 737 Max was a safe aircraft.
“Forkner allegedly abused his position of trust by intentionally withholding critical information about MCAS during the FAA’s assessment and certification of the 737 MAX and US airline customers of Boeing,” noted Deputy Attorney General Kenneth A Polite Jr of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in a statement.
The prosecutor claimed that Forkner provided the FAA with “materially false, inaccurate and incomplete information” about MCAS, the maneuver characteristic augmentation system. This, he said, was the root of the lack of documentation and understanding of MCAS that led to two fatal crashes.
In November 2016, the DoJ claims that Forkner was made aware of a significant change to the MCAS and deliberately withheld it from the FAA’s AEG, which led to safety approval reports not mentioning the software presence.
Software that pilots did not know
MCAS is the controversial 737 Max software system responsible for two 737 Max crashes, killing 346 people. As shown here on The register, MCAS was a software fix for the Max so that the updated airliner design could be âgrandfatheredâ under existing regulatory approvals for the design of the older 737.
Boeing designed the 737 Max in response to competing Airbus A320neo model. To give its airliner comparable fuel economy to the Franco-German design, new engines were installed on the 737’s airframe. These changed its flight characteristics to the point that the FAA would not approve the airframe. Max for flight without requiring a long and expensive certification process – or a software patch.
Thus, the MCAS introduced a software layer in the flight control system (manual) of the Max. This included direct control of the aircraft’s attitude, defining how high or low its nose points during flight. Entry into MCAS was done through a single angle of attack sensor, unlike Airbus aircraft where readings from three sensors are used for redundancy.
In Max’s first crash, the sensor used was giving false readings which prompted the MCAS to apply full nose down compensation. Unaware of what the software was doing because MCAS had not been detailed in the pilot’s manuals, the crew could not recover from the fatal dive. In the second crash, the pilots applied Boeing’s new counter-MCAS procedure – but everyone on board died anyway because Boeing didn’t realize that no human was strong enough to operate the manual override control in situations where MCAS has activated.
The FAA indeed alleges that if Forkner had not withheld vital information about MCAS, no accidents would have occurred.
Unlike his former employer, Forkner probably doesn’t have $ 2.5 billion to give to DoJ attorneys so the prosecution can disappear as if by magic to be determined. He is due in court today.
While new procedures and system redundancies have been introduced to mitigate MCAS, Boeing still hopes airlines will start placing more orders for the jets.
We asked Boeing to comment. Â®