By Andrew Tangel and Andy Pasztor
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.
Separately, the Federal Aviation Administration Friday released
results of an internal 2019 survey indicating that a sizable share
of employees had concerns about the agency's safety culture,
ranging from lack of support by managers to an overly
business-friendly orientation among senior personnel.
The Wall Street Journal reported in March prosecutors were
seeking to build a criminal case against Mr. Forkner and were
considering charges against Mr. Gustavsson, focusing on initial
certification and related pilot-training requirements for the MAX.
Mr. Gerger has said Mr. Forkner did his job honestly and would
never jeopardize the safety of other pilots or their
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
FAA 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. Congressional
investigators and various independent safety studies have raised
questions about whether Mr. Forkner or other Boeing officials
misled or failed to adequately inform FAA officials about MAX
safety issues. Boeing has said the MAX met regulators'
certification standards and requirements.
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
The FAA survey found more than three out of 10 employees with
direct safety responsibilities felt they lacked adequate training
or staff resources to properly do their jobs. The same proportion
said they were concerned "external influences," such as industry
pressure, unduly affected certain safety decisions. Conducted by
Rand Corp., a government-supported research organization, the
survey also found that more than one-quarter of the respondents
believed safety issues raised by employees weren't always
adequately addressed by managers and the outcome wasn't reported
back to employees in a timely fashion. The survey didn't
concentrate on any specific office or aircraft model.
Other findings included that many employees consider senior FAA
leaders "overly concerned with achieving the business-oriented
outcomes" pushed by companies, and believe agency management often
accedes to industry pressure to help meet timelines and manage
Nearly half of those who responded indicated they thought the
FAA delegated too many safety analyses to industry. According to
the findings, many employees "believe that they will suffer subtle
but obvious consequences if they raise safety issues too
Pertaining to the MAX, Rand reported high-level FAA safety
officials "painted 'too rosy a picture' in the aftermath" of two
fatal MAX crashes and failed to acknowledge needed policy and
In a letter to Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who heads
the House Transportation Committee, FAA chief Steve Dickson on
Friday vowed to support rank-and-file aviation safety professionals
by "achieving the institutional improvements we need to make."
Mr. DeFazio responded by saying "the survey results are damning"
and reflect "a disturbing pattern of senior officials at a federal
agency rolling over for industry."
Responding to the MAX crashes and survey results, the FAA is
developing a voluntary, nonpunitive reporting system for the
agency's safety organization similar to those that have proved
successful for pilots, mechanics and air-traffic controllers.
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 and Andy Pasztor
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 07, 2020 19:52 ET (23:52 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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