In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)

In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)

Former Boeing test pilot found not guilty of deceiving FAA

Mark Forkner was acquitted Wednesday on felony charges of deceiving federal regulators.

By David Koenig / Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas — A former Boeing Co. test pilot was acquitted Wednesday on felony charges of deceiving federal regulators about a key flight-control system that played a role in two deadly crashes involving 737 Max jets.

A jury in federal district court in Fort Worth deliberated less than two hours before finding Mark Forkner not guilty on four counts of wire fraud.

Prosecutors accused Forkner of misleading Federal Aviation Administration regulators about the amount of training pilots would need to fly the Max. The FAA required only brief computer-based training for pilots instead of more extensive practice in simulators that could have cost Boeing up to $1 million per plane.

Defense lawyers said Boeing engineers did not tell Forkner about changes to the flight software, known by its acronym, MCAS. They told jurors that Forkner was a scapegoat for Boeing and FAA officials who sought to avoid blame after Max crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people.

“We are very grateful that this jury and judge were so smart, so fair, so independent, that they saw through it,” defense attorney David Gerger said after the verdict.

The Justice Department did not comment immediately.

Testimony in the trial lasted less than three days, after jury selection and opening statements by lawyers Friday evening. Forkner did not testify. Judge Reed O’Connor had instructed the jurors not to consider his silence as a sign of guilt or innocence. The defense called only one witness, a current Boeing pilot, who testified for about one hour.

Forkner was Boeing’s chief technical pilot for the 737 Max, giving him a key role in determining pilot-training requirements. Prosecutors tried to use Forkner’s internal messages to colleagues against him, particularly one in which he said he unknowingly misled regulators. He left the company in 2018, months before the first crash, then briefly worked at Southwest Airlines.

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