Ex-Boeing pilot likely to face prosecution in 737 Max jet probe

Mark Forkner, Boeing’s 737 Max chief technical pilot, may face criminal charges in the coming weeks

FILE PHOTO: A Boeing 737 MAX takes off during a flight test in Renton, Washington January 29, 2016.  REUTERS/Jason Redmond/File photo

A former Boeing pilot is expected to face criminal charges after US federal prosecutors suspected him of misleading aviation regulators about safety issues blamed for two fatal crashes of the 737 Max, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Mark Forkner, who was Boeing's 737 Max chief technical pilot during the aircraft’s development, is likely to face prosecution in the coming weeks, the newspaper reported, citing sources.

In his past role, Mr Forkner served as the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer's lead contact with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for how airline pilots must be trained to fly the new jet.

The exact formal charge or charges Mr Forkner might face are not yet known, the WSJ said.

A US Justice Department spokesman and Boeing declined to comment, the newspaper said.

Mr Forkner's prosecution would be the first attempt to hold a Boeing employee accountable for conduct that preceded the two fatal 737 Max crashes, which occurred in Indonesia in October 2018 and Ethiopia in March 2019. The disasters brought the death toll from the two accidents to 346 people.

An automated flight-control system known as MCAS was implicated in both crashes, triggered by a single malfunctioning sensor. The FAA cleared the Max aircraft to resume commercial flights last year after Boeing fixed the flawed design and made other extensive modifications to the jet’s flight-control computers.

The FAA is the government agency responsible for approving the plane’s operation in the US and it oversaw efforts over 18 months to redesign systems on the jet while it was grounded.

The UAE's civil aviation regulator also lifted a 23-month ban on the Boeing 737 Max jet earlier this year and deemed the aircraft safe to return to the skies. The UAE is home to flydubai, one of the world's biggest customers of the 737 Max aircraft.

About 175 countries have cleared the Max to resume service after Boeing paid over $2.5 billion in fines and redesigned the MCAS linked to the two fatal clashes.

The 737 Max is a principal money-maker for Boeing, making the resumption of its deliveries critical as air travel demand recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic and a worldwide flying ban on the model.

Updated: September 18, 2021, 2:07 PM