But even as Boeing emerged from the Max crisis, it was confronted with another: The coronavirus pandemic brought aviation to a standstill, crippling airlines around the world and forcing many to rethink, or at least delay, plans to buy new planes. Boeing has also slowed production and paused deliveries of its 787 Dreamliner in the face of quality concerns.
The F.A.A. and Boeing declined to comment.
MCAS, the flight control software implicated in the crashes, was designed to counteract the Max’s tendency to pitch up in certain situations. It would only operate at certain fast speeds, Boeing and Mr. Forkner told the F.A.A. in June 2015, according to the indictment.
At the time, Mr. Forkner was Boeing’s chief technical pilot, a senior position responsible for the company’s interaction with the F.A.A. group that determined what kind of training pilots would need before flying the Max.
During a simulated test flight in November 2016, Mr. Forkner discovered that the software could be triggered at slower speeds, including those commonly experienced during takeoff and landing. Soon after, he shared his discovery with a colleague, saying in an instant message “I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” according to the filing.
Mr. Forkner did not share the finding with the agency and recommended on multiple occasions that it be deleted from a forthcoming F.A.A. report on the Max because it was “way outside the normal operating envelope,” according to the indictment. Based on that information, the agency dropped mention of the software from the report and MCAS was subsequently left out of manuals and training materials.
The software was found to have been operating in the moments before the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
Before allowing the Max to fly again, the F.A.A. required that Boeing update MCAS to avoid erroneous activation and update display software to alert pilots when data related to the plane’s angle from sensors conflicts, among other changes.