Pilots Union Sues Boeing Over 737 Max Crashes

DALLAS (CN) — The Southwest Airlines pilots union sued Boeing on Monday, claiming it misrepresented the airworthiness of the now-grounded 737 Max and rushed production of the plane to protect its share in the narrow-body market, resulting in two deadly crashes that killed 346 people.

A chartered Boeing 737 that had 143 people aboard sits in the St. Johns River at the end of a runway in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 4. (AP photo/Gary McCullough)

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association sued Boeing in Dallas County Court, alleging fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, tortious interference, negligence and fraudulent nondisclosure.

“Boeing abandoned sound design and engineering practices, withheld safety critical information from regulators and deliberately misled its customers, pilots and the public about the true scope of design changes to the 737 Max,” the 79-page complaint states. “Boeing’s misrepresentations caused SWAPA to believe that the 737 Max aircraft was safe, and that it was to SWAPA pilots’ economic advantage to agree to fly the 737 Max aircraft for their employer.”

The latest variant of Boeing’s highly successful line of 737 aircraft was grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration on March 13 after Lion Air Flight 610 crashed on Oct. 29, 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10 this year. The lawsuit claims that if erroneous data is fed to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System flight-control software “from a single angle-of-attack sensor, [it] would command the aircraft to nose-down and into an unrecoverable dive without pilot input or knowledge.”

The union claims that if it knew the truth about the “fatal flaws” in 2016, it would have demanded fixes before agreeing to include the variant in the pilots’ collective bargaining agreement, demanding training needed to respond to the error.

The union claims the MCAS is the result of Boeing’s decision to use the newer, larger LEAP1-B engines on the 737 Max. This required the engines to be mounted higher up and father forward on the wing, which changed the plane’s “aerodynamic center of gravity, decreased aircraft stability, created a greater pitch-up tendency at elevated angles of attack, and negatively affected the flight handling characteristics, making the 737 Max more susceptible to the catastrophic risk of stall,” according to the complaint.

Boeing said the union’s lawsuit is meritless.

“We will continue to work with Southwest Airlines and its pilots on efforts to safely return the Max to service,” the company said in a statement.

The union says the grounding has caused Southwest to cancel more than 30,000 flights so far. Pilot and flight crew pay are calculated based on time spent in the air.

“This is expected to reduce the airline’s passenger service 8 percent by the end of 2019, resulting in compensation losses for SWAPA pilots in excess of $100 million,” the union said in a statement. “Southwest is the largest operator of the 737 Max, and the aircraft is not expected to return to passenger service until the first quarter of 2020.”

The head of S&P Global Ratings in September described the two crashes as the “worst disaster in the history” of aviation insurance, and predicted the insurance payout would probably be the largest ever. Boeing reported a second-quarter loss of almost $3 billion, largely due to issues with the 737 Max. It reported total losses due to the crashes and grounding at almost $8 billion and counting.

Boeing pledged in July to set aside $100 million to support families and communities affected by the two crashes. It said it will partner with local governments and nonprofits to “support education, hardship and living expenses for impacted families, community programs, and economic development in impacted communities.”

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