Boeing 737 MAX pilot class action grows

written by australianaviation.com.au | August 27, 2019
The 737 MAX is powered by CFM International Leap-1B engines. (Boeing)
A file image of a Boeing 737 MAX 8. (Boeing)

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”.

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“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).

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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.”

Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington State. (Wikimedia Commons/SounderBruce)
Grounded Boeing 737 MAX aircraft at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington State. (Wikimedia Commons/SounderBruce)

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.

A supplied picture of a Boeing 737 MAX 7 landing on April 17, 2019 after a technical demonstration flight for the MCAS software update. (Boeing)
A supplied picture of a Boeing 737 MAX 7 landing on April 17, 2019 after a technical demonstration flight for the MCAS software update. (Boeing)

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8 Comments

  • Jim

    says:

    I predicted this 20 yrs ago when fly by wire was introduced….NO CONTROL WHATSOEVER IF A SYSTEM FAILS….NO MANUAL CONTROL TO OVERRIDE THE SITUATION…ALL DONE IN THE NAME OF COST CUTTING….and now they cannot fix it as it is too complicated… pilots must be worried sick…every new aircraft from now on will be subject to failure.

    • kdgh

      says:

      Jim, the 737 doesn’t have fly by wire except for the MAX spoilers. Also, there are a few of ways to overide MCAS which some MAX pilots had done in the past. And they can fix it and Boeing claims to have already done it and it’s waiting to pass certification.

    • Chris

      says:

      This has nothing to do with fly-by-wire.
      737 is still pulleys and cables.
      This has to do with a software system that takes over said pulleys and cables.
      Also, this is FAR from being sorted out and if it ever does get certified, the next challenge will be regaining trust from the flying public. This, I fear, will be a stretch too far.

      • kfghk

        says:

        Chris, the general public does not “trust” any particular aircraft type over another. They look for price and schedule followed by airline reputation and customer service. Most people booking flights, particularly for short haul, don’t check the aircraft type, don’t know anything about aircraft and/or don’t care anyway. Out of the few that do know , most of those will trust that it has been sorted.

  • Mirza Rahmanovic

    says:

    This was an opportunity to take the industry away from the ignorant greedy shareholders, and give the control back to the people who care about the quality and safety. But Boeing still doesn’t give a damn.

  • Lhano Martins Xavier Junior

    says:

    The 737 fly again?
    I not understand, the FAA give certificates without tests?
    About refunds and orders, the 737 is end?

  • Adrian P

    says:

    Suing each other did not make aviation as safe as it is today.
    Openness in failures without fear of mitigation enabled improvements in procedures.
    So put the pressure on the FAA etc. to put pressure on Boeing etc to do better instead of a dash for cash.

  • Shapes

    says:

    Articles on this subject do not show up on Google search, just the Russian airline case.
    Over 3,000 pilots is unprecedented and people need to know about it.

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