Southwest pilots hit Boeing with $US100m MAX lawsuit for lost wages

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October 08, 2019
Southwest pilots lawsuit
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX aircraft at Victorville, California. Image: KCAL9.

Pilots at Southwest Airlines are suing Boeing for loss of wages totaling $US100 million as a result of the Boeing 737 MAX grounding.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association filed a lawsuit in the District Court of Dallas in Texas Monday alleging Boeing deliberately misled the airline and its pilots about the 737 MAX.

Boeing said in a statement it was aware of the lawsuit.

“We believe the lawsuit is meritless and will vigorously defend against it,” The manufacturer said.  “We will continue to work with Southwest Airlines and its pilots in an effort to safely return the MAX to service.”

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Southwest is the biggest US operator of MAX aircraft and the union estimates the plane’s grounding has caused the cancellation of 30,000 scheduled flights.

It said this was expected to reduce the airline’s passenger service by 8 percent by the end of 2019.

It is not clear when the MAX will return to service: Boeing remains optimistic it will get the green light in the current quarter but airlines say it will take time to train pilots and get the planes flying.

SWAPA said the Southwest planes were not expected to return to service until the first quarter of 2020.

However, American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker told The Dallas Morning News that the airline had the MAX in the schedule for the first week of December.

Parker said that was achievable provided Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration met a previously indicated timeline.

“To be flying those flights in December, we will need to hear before very long that it is indeed certified,” he said. “If not, we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is respond far enough in advance.'”

The lawsuit said the union agreed to fly the MAX based on Boeing’s representations that it was airworthy and essentially the same as “time-tested” 737 aircraft South West’s pilots had flown for years.

It said Boeing’s representations caused SWAPA to believe the 737 MAX was safe and that it was to its members” advantage to agree to fly the plane.

“Those representations proved to be false,’’ the lawsuit says.  “The 737 MAX now is grounded worldwide because it is unsafe, unairworthy, and contrary to Boeing’s representations, distinct from the 737 family of aircraft that preceded it, which SWAPA pilots have flown for years.”

SWAPA had included the MAX in its collective bargaining agreement and the lawsuit says the grounding causing SWAPA pilots to lose millions of dollars each month because the plane was removed from Southwest’s flight schedule.

SWAPA president Jonathan L. Weaks said nothing was more important to pilots than the safety of passengers.

“We have to be able to trust Boeing to truthfully disclose the information we need to safely operate our aircraft. In the case of the 737 MAX, that absolutely did not happen,’’ he said.

Capt. Weaks said it was critical that Boeing took whatever time was necessary to return the plane to service.

But he said South West pilots should not be expected to take “a significant and ever-expanding financial loss as a result of Boeing’s negligence”.

“We look forward to a solution that helps Boeing restore the confidence of both the flying public and the pilots who operate its aircraft,” he said.

American’s Parker told the Dallas newspaper that the airline had been in preliminary conversations with Boeing about compensation “but nothing you would call negotiations”.

He said the airline’s profit-sharing would be lower than it otherwise would have been due to the MAX grounding.

“I would hope we can figure out a way that at least some of the compensation comes this year and we can include that in our profit-sharing,” he said. “But that’s as much up to Boeing as us.”