About 3,000 pilots from 12 airlines have joined a class action seeking compensation for financial and other losses following the global grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX fleet after two fatal accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
The claim is estimated in court documents filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to potentially cost Boeing US$250 million (A$369 million).
Brisbane-based air and space law firm International Aerospace Law & Policy Group (IALPG) and Chicago-based PMJ PLLC filed the initial action in May on behalf of Pilot X, a Canadian citizen at a major international airline who chose to remain anonymous to safeguard against any “reprisal from Boeing or its customers”.
“We could never have predicted that so many would come forward feeling that their trust as safety professionals was abused,” PMJ PLLC Patrick Jones managing partner and founder said in a statement on Tuesday.
The hearing is scheduled for October 21, in Chicago, where Boeing has its headquarters.
The pilots who have progressively joined the action since Pilot X’s filing are also seeking anonymity so that they are not prejudiced in present or future employment.
The law firms have therefore applied to the court to withhold their identities from public disclosure, filing affidavits as to why that must be under seal (not for public disclosure at this stage).
IALPG principal and founder Joseph Wheeler described the two crashes as “a result of corporate greed”.
“Pilots trained specifically to fly the MAX have had their incomes significantly reduced or in some cases eliminated and face new uncertain career trajectories,” Wheeler said.
“Families and livelihoods have been disrupted, which has been especially costly to those just beginning their careers or changing jobs to work for airlines that operated the MAX.”
The claim filed with the court said the pilots relied on Boeing’s representations that the 737 MAX series aircraft was not only “safe” but offered the “greatest flexibility, reliability and efficiency in the single-aisle market.”
“In reliance on those representations, the plaintiffs and the members of the respective classes sought or chose employment with and trained to fly the MAX as employees or contractors of 12 international airlines,” the court documents said.
Further, it claims: “The plaintiffs’ personal and professional lives were devastated when Boeing and the FAA engaged in “an unprecedented cover-up of known design flaws of the MAX, which predictably resulted in the crashes of two MAX aircraft and grounding of all MAX aircraft worldwide.”
“As a result, the plaintiffs have suffered and continue to suffer significant lost wages, among other economic and non-economic damages, when the MAX was grounded with no end in sight,” the court documents said.
It also said the plaintiffs suffered severe emotional and mental distress when they were effectively compelled to fly the MAX – placing their lives and the lives of the crews and passengers in danger – despite the growing awareness of the dangerous nature of the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) and other problems that Boeing had previously concealed or failed to disclose to the plaintiffs both before and after a Lion Air 737 MAX 8 crashed in October 2018.
The MCAS anti-stall software was used on the MAX as part of design changes to compensate for stall risk from the installation of larger engines further forward on the wing, compared with previous versions of the 737.
The pilots’ action joins a raft of lawsuits already filed against Boeing following the 737 MAX fleet grounding after Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes that killed 346 people in October 2018 and March 2019, respectively.
These include filings by AeroMexico, Norwegian Air, China Southern, China Eastern and Air China over losses from the grounding of the MAX’s in their fleets, by Boeing shareholders, and family members of victims of the two crashes.
Boeing has not commented on the pilot class action to date.