Ex-Boeing Pilot at Center of 737 MAX Probe to Exit Southwest Airlines
By Andrew Tangel
A central figure in a federal criminal probe into Boeing Co.'s
development of the 737 MAX is leaving Southwest Airlines Co., where
he has worked as a pilot since leaving the plane maker more than
two years ago.
Mark Forkner, who as Boeing's 737 MAX chief technical pilot
oversaw regulatory approvals for training and pilot manuals, is
among more than 4,400 Southwest employees who opted for a voluntary
buyout package, a spokeswoman for the airline said. U.S. carriers
have been preparing to slash their payrolls in recent months as the
worsening coronavirus pandemic sapped demand for air travel.
Justice Department prosecutors in recent months have been
gathering information about Mr. Forkner and his then-fellow Boeing
technical pilot Patrik Gustavsson, according to people familiar
with the matter. Boeing and the Justice Department declined to
David Gerger, Mr. Forkner's attorney, said Mr. Forkner was among
some 630 pilots who took the voluntary exit package. The airline
spokeswoman said the deals include payouts as well as medical and
Mr. Forkner will remain at the Dallas-based carrier through Aug.
31, the Southwest spokeswoman said.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March prosecutors were
seeking to build a criminal case against Mr. Forkner and
considering charges against Mr. Gustavsson. Mr. Gustavsson and his
lawyer couldn't be reached.
Mr. Forkner emerged as a focus of the MAX saga after disclosures
of chat messages and emails he sent during his time at Boeing,
including one exchange in which he said he inadvertently misled the
Federal Aviation Administration about a flight-control system later
implicated in two fatal crashes that claimed 346 lives.
Federal prosecutors and investigators have interviewed other
airline pilots to understand what their professional obligations to
report safety issues should be in such situations, people familiar
with the matter said.
While at Boeing, Mr. Forkner helped Boeing avoid FAA
requirements that MAX pilots undergo simulator training, a costly
prospect for Boeing's airline customers.
Previously disclosed emails show Mr. Forkner requested FAA
approval to delete mention of the flight-control system, MCAS, from
pilot manuals, arguing it would only activate in rare
After the two MAX crashes, crash investigators and safety
experts criticized Boeing for not informing pilots about the MCAS
system and how it could automatically push down the plane's
Mr. Gerger has said Mr. Forkner did his job honestly and would
never jeopardize the safety of other pilots or their
Mr. Forkner joined Southwest as a junior pilot in 2018. Among
his early responsibilities involved phasing the MAX aircraft into
Southwest's fleet. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said last year that Mr.
Forkner's earlier messages weren't related to his current job and
that the pilot was by all accounts a "very fine man and does a fine
job for us."
The MAX has been grounded world-wide since its second crash in
March 2019. The FAA is expected to approve the aircraft to resume
passenger service later this year, after pilots undergo required
MAX simulator training.
--Alison Sider and Dave Michaels contributed to this
Write to Andrew Tangel at Andrew.Tangel@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 07, 2020 13:36 ET (17:36 GMT)
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