Boeing has sent the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) additional documents that were discovered by its internal investigation into development of the 737 MAX and include “troubling communications” that the company’s lawyers say it needs to disclose, according to a person familiar with the details.
The documents include further messages from Mark Forkner, the Boeing pilot whose 2016 instant-message exchange with a colleague caused outrage when it was released in October.
Boeing will also send the documents to the congressional committees that are investigating the MAX crashes and to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for its criminal investigation.
A senior Boeing executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the new Forkner documents contain the same kind of “trash talking” about the FAA as in the October messages.
He said he doesn’t think they will be explosive but that they will generate headlines and continue to be a problem for Boeing. He added that there might be additional documents he is unaware of.
Forkner poses a continuing problem for the company, because he hired his own high-powered criminal defense attorney instead of lawyers retained by Boeing, and the company doesn’t know what he’s doing, the executive said.
While Forkner invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to avoid turning over records to DOJ, Boeing doesn’t know if he might cut a deal with prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation, he said.
The timing of the company’s release of the documents to government agencies, so close to the holidays and on the same day as the sacking of CEO Dennis Muilenburg, may be intended to get the bad news out there all at once with less press coverage.
Forkner was 737 chief technical pilot during the development of the MAX. The job of the pilot team he led was to test the MAX flight control systems in a simulator and to determine the information and training that airline pilots would need to fly the airplane.
It was Forkner who sent an email to an FAA official in March 2016 asking that information about the MAX’s new flight-control software — known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) — be omitted from the pilot manuals and not mentioned in pilot training.
In the 2016 instant message exchange between Forkner and another Boeing pilot, Forkner stated that he had “basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly).”
In that loose conversation, during which Forkner was drinking vodka, he said MCAS had “run rampant” during simulator testing in 2016. Boeing said later he was referring to the simulator software being defective, rather than MCAS itself.
And in a separate 2016 email to an FAA official, Forkner joked that he was “doing a bunch of traveling … jedi-mind tricking (foreign) regulators into accepting the training that I got accepted by FAA.”
These revelations were the subject of intense questioning of Muilenburg when he appeared before Congress in late October.
Forkner’s attorney, David Gerger of Houston, declined to comment.