A potentially explosive new twist in the Boeing saga hit the wires late on Friday when the NYT reported that federal prosecutors were examining whether or not aerospace company knowingly misled the FAA while seeking approval for the 737 Max.
Several Boeing employees have been questioned by prosecutors in front of a federal grand jury whether a top Boeing pilot, Mark Forkner, lied to the FAA about the capabilities of the then-new MCAS airplane software.
The Department of Justice has been investigating the company for months, but this is the first look into how prosecutors could eventually be looking to hold the company liable. Forkner faces potential criminal charges of lying to the government and the company "could also be held liable" according to the NYT, because at the time "he was a senior employee responsible for Boeing’s interaction with the F.A.A. group that determined the kind of training pilots would have to have before flying the Max."
While the DOJ has been investigating Boeing for months, the information about the grand jury testimony provides clarity about how prosecutors could be aiming to hold the company accountable for errors that led to the two crashes involving the Max.
Specifically, prosecutors are seeking to determine whether or not Forkner knew about a key change that Boeing had made to MCAS that allowed the software to trigger in almost all phases flight - and whether he withheld that information from the FAA.
"I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly)," Forkner was found to have said in a November 2016 text message conversation with a colleague. He also noted in the same texts that the MCAS was triggering a low speeds. "Oh shocker alert!. MCAS is now active down to M .2," he wrote in another text.
Meanwhile, Forkner's lawyers said he was simply reacting to a faulty simulator and didn't mislead the FAA. They stated:
“Mark didn’t lie to anyone. He did his job honestly, and his communications to the F.A.A. were honest. As a pilot and Air Force vet, he would never jeopardize the safety of other pilots or their passengers. That is what any fair investigation would find.”
It remains to be seen if the jury, and families of some 300+ casualties who died just because Boeing wanted to make the most "cost-efficient" airplane, will agree. Meanwhile, as prosecutors are also looking at whether there were broader cultural issues at Boeing that encouraged employees to lie to regulators, they have to consider smoking guns such as the following internal correspondence which was released by Boeing in which an unnamed employee said in 2018:
"I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the covering up I did last year."
Good luck explaining that one.