FAA inspector says she felt bullied by Boeing’s ex-chief technical pilot during 737 MAX certification

FORT WORTH, TEXAS — An FAA regulator who was in charge of the certification of Boeing's 737 MAX jet said she felt “bullied” by Boeing’s ex-chief technical pilot Mark Forkner as his company pushed for lower training standards on the aircraft.


Stacey Klein, who headed the Federal Aviation Administration group in Seattle in charge of training levels for the plane as it was being developed, said Forkner would “get irritated, red-faced, raise his voice at me” during meetings and slam his hands down on the table.

“It was very unprofessional,” Klein testified in federal court in Fort Worth Monday.

Forkner is on trial over four wire fraud charges that could get him up to 80 years in prison for his role in deceiving airlines and federal regulators over faulty software systems on the 737 MAX jets.

That faulty software system, known as MCAS, would push the nose of the plane down in certain conditions and was later blamed in crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019 that killed a combined 346 people and triggered a worldwide grounding of the jet.

U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor reminded the trial’s 12 jurors that Forkner isn’t being blamed for the two 737 MAX crashes. It was a pertinent reminder just hours after a Boeing 737-800 jet, not in the MAX family, crashed in China, killing 132 people.
The Fort Worth trial centers on whether Forkner lied to air carriers such as Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and the FAA, downplaying the effects of the maneuvering software so that it wouldn’t require extra training for pilots — training that would have triggered penalties of up to $1 million per airplane purchase for Boeing.

Prosecutors say Forkner knew about those changes in November 2016 and didn’t notify regulators as it continued to be evaluated and then certified months later.

Forkner is the only individual to face criminal charges as part of the Boeing 737 MAX crisis, a scandal that tarnished the reputation of Boeing, one of the country’s largest private manufacturers and employers, and the FAA over its oversight of how new planes are certified and regulated in the United States.

Federal prosecutors led off their case Monday by calling U.S. Department of Transportation investigator Kent Byers to verify emails and messages between Forkner and employees at Boeing that said he “lied to regulators (unknowingly).” They want to establish that Forkner knew about critical changes to the MCAS software as regulators were trying to determine pilot training standards.

The unions for pilots at American and Southwest have lambasted Boeing for hiding the MCAS system from pilots, saying the move endangered crews and passengers.

Forkner’s lawyers have argued that he didn’t know the extent of changes to the software maneuvering program, only that computer flight simulators sometimes acted strangely during testing. Forkner’s team is also arguing that he’s being made into a scapegoat by the U.S. government, who have only produced a handful of incendiary communications out of more than 15 million total documents procured by investigators.

Boeing agreed to pay a $2.5 billion fine and purged its highest top executives after questions about the company prioritizing profits over safety, but no one else at the company has faced criminal repercussions.

Klein, a former airline pilot, said Boeing had “a team of thousands” of employees working on the 737 MAX program while she worked with a team of three to determine how much training pilots would need before flying the new 737 variant. Klein headed the flight standardization board for the FAA’s Aircraft Evaluation Group in Seattle, where Boeing designs, tests and assembles planes such as the 737 MAX.

She relied on Forkner to apprise the FAA of any design changes to the 737 MAX, she said.

Klein recently left the Aircraft Evaluation Group in Seattle and took a “promotion” to the FAA’s Denver aircraft certification office, she testified Monday.

Boeing was trying to convince the FAA that the 737 MAX was only slightly different than previous generations of the popular 737 jets, which the manufacturer has been making since the late 1960s.

Granting “level B” training would mean existing 737 pilots would only need an hour or two of training on a computer or iPad, while a lower rating would mean a day or two of simulator training.
Klein and Forkner were “direct counterparts” in their roles on the 737 MAX project, meeting every other week formally and often much more.

Forkner, a former Air Force pilot who went to work for Southwest Airlines after the 737 MAX was certified, would become agitated in meetings when discussing more extensive training standards for the aircraft, Klein said.

“I felt like I was being bullied,” she said. “Once we agreed to evaluate the aircraft for their proposal at level B, it became a much more professional engagement between Mr. Forkner and myself.”

Forkner’s messages have been a lightning rod in the 737 MAX investigation, becoming a critical part of Congressional hearings. Klein said she was surprised when she learned about messages in which Forkner said “I basically lied to regulators (unknowingly).”

“I was shocked, dismayed, sad, angry — all of those feelings,” Klein said. “Because I trusted Mark and I trusted him to give me this information.”

She said changes to MCAS to expand the power and scope of the software would have required simulator training.

Ashlee McFarlane, a lawyer on Forkner’s team, pointed out that incriminating lines were taken out of context from longer emails by an employee who sometimes exaggerated about himself and his role. He would often refer to himself as a “liar” in emails, she said.

“If I pull this off, I’ll be a hero,” Forkner wrote in a 2016 email. “If not, they’ll string me up on a flagpole for the whole world to see.”

In another email, Forkner wrote: “Except, of course, we lose Level B, which will be thrown squarely on my shoulders. It was Mark, yes Mark, who cost Boeing millions of dollars.”
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