US court acquits ex-Boeing pilot accused of misleading regulators during 737 MAX certification

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A former Boeing pilot accused of misleading US aviation regulators during the certification process for the 737 MAX jetliner, which had two fatal crashes killing 346 people, was acquitted on Wednesday.  

Mark Forkner was found not guilty by a Fort Worth, Texas jury after being indicted last November. He was the only individual facing prosecution in the case so far.

His lawyer, David Gerger, praised “an independent, smart, and fair judge and jury” in a statement sent to AFP.

Boeing has acknowledged responsibility for misleading the authorities about the MAX, and agreed in January 2021 to pay more than $2.5 billion to settle lawsuits related to the crash of a Lion Air flight in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines in March 2019.

The aviation giant said two of its employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

According to prosecution documents, Forkner in 2016 discovered a major change made to the MAX flight control software known as MCAS, which was implicated in both crashes.

In a message to a colleague revealed in 2019, he indicated that the software made the plane difficult to fly in a simulator, the documents show.

But prosecutors say he failed to share all the information with the FAA, which did not require additional pilot training on the MAX.

The judge last month dismissed two of the six original charges against the pilot.

Forkner had still been accused of having sought to mislead Boeing customers American Airlines and Southwest Airlines by not providing them with all the relevant information when they finalized their orders for the aircraft, in particular on the need for training, in a bid to protect the manufacturer from losing money.

Forkner’s defense team had said he was being made a scapegoat in the investigation.

AFP

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