The former Chief Technical Pilot at Boeing has been found not guilty on charges of fraud.
A Texas jury cleared Mark Forkner from deceiving safety regulators from the Federal Aviation Administration assessing the manufacturing giant’s 737 Max jet. The FAA is responsible for certifying all aircraft in the US.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Texas confirmed Mr Forkner was found not guilty on all counts. Both Boeing and the FAA declined to offer a comment on the verdict.
Mr Forkner was formally charged in October with scheming to defraud the company’s airline customers of millions of dollars.
He had faced up to 20 years in prison on each count if charged but has always maintained his innocence. He also remains the only individual criminally charged in connection to the case.
Peter DeFazio, Chair of the U.S. House Transportation Committee, said at the time of the charging that Mr Forkner’s indictment “should not be the end of the accountability for this colossal and tragic failure”. He went on to apportion blame elsewhere:
“Senior leaders throughout Boeing are responsible for the culture of concealment that ultimately led to the 737 Max crashes.”
“Materially false information” given by accused
Issues with the 737 Max stemmed from a faulty flight control system called the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. MCAS failures were deemed to be the cause of two catastrophic crashes that killed a combined 346 people.
Whilst the US government did not argue Mr Forkner was responsible for the crashes, they alleged he had provided the FAA with “materially false, inaccurate and incomplete information” relating to MCAS.
The prosecutors’ case focused heavily on a message sent by Mr Forkner in which he admits he unknowingly “basically lied to the regulators” about MCAS.
Billions paid in punitive damages
It is estimated the crashes cost Boeing over $20 billion and caused a 20-month grounding of all 737 Max aircraft. The grounding was finally lifted in November 2020.
The US Justice Department said the incidents “exposed fraudulent and deceptive conduct by employees of one of the world’s leading commercial aeroplane manufacturers.”
After settling with the Justice Department, the Chicago-based firm subsequently agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in compensation and fines. The agreement included a fine of $243.6 million and a $500 million fund for victims of the fraud conspiracy charges relating to the aircraft’s design flaws.
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