Southwest Airlines overcharged passengers between 2017-2019 by operating the “unsafe, non-airworthy, and defective” Boeing 737 MAX and failing to sufficiently train pilots to fly the aircraft, a class action alleges.
Southwest Airlines overcharged passengers between 2017 and 2019 by operating the “unsafe, non-airworthy, and defective” Boeing 737 MAX and failing to sufficiently train pilots to fly the troublesome aircraft, a proposed class action alleges.
The dense 72-page lawsuit relays that the 737 MAX is an aircraft found to be so unsafe, especially in light of the crashes of Lion Air Flight 610 in October 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 in March 2019, that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grounded it as the European Union Aviation Safety agency suspended all flights of the plane into, within and out of Europe. Southwest breached its contracts of carriage with customers and FAA regulations by allowing the 737 MAX into the sky, the complaint says.
For its part, Southwest sold between August 29, 2017 and March 13, 2019 tickets for travel that came with “promises of safety, proper pilot training, and regulatory compliance,” the case says, yet passengers effectively had no way of knowing whether they would be flying on the 737 MAX or with a crew properly trained to handle the plane, the lawsuit, filed in Texas federal court, alleges. As such, Southwest flyers were overcharged for their tickets, the case claims:
“Plaintiff and the Class were overcharged by Southwest for their tickets as a result of Southwest’s failure to fulfill its promises, such that purchasing a ticket for travel on any route operated by Southwest meant rolling the dice on whether they would be flying on a fatally flawed aircraft—the 737 MAX. Plaintiffs and the Class bring this action to remedy this damage caused by Southwest’s breach of contract.”
The 737 MAX was grounded worldwide for more than 20 months before the FAA and other regulatory bodies around the globe cleared the aircraft to fly again in late 2020. The issue plaguing the aircraft, the suit relays, was a flawed and unsafely designed avionics system known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) that had defects Southwest pilots were allegedly unaware of. According to the lawsuit, the MCAS was activated automatically when a 737 MAX’s angle of attack (AoA) sensor communicated to the MCAS that the plane’s AoA, i.e., the angle between the wing and the direction of oncoming air, was too steep, which could cause the wings to lose lift and the plane to stall. In that event, the MCAS would automatically, and without pilot intervention, push the plane’s nose downward despite any countermands from pilots to do the opposite, the lawsuit says.
Upon delivery of the 737 MAX, neither Boeing nor Southwest informed pilots of the existence of the MCAS, the case relays. By failing to disclose its existence, Southwest and Boeing prevented pilots from developing an understanding of the system and related systems, as well as use their own pilot experiences and training in order to respond to the MCAS should it become improperly activated in flight, the lawsuit says.
The complaint argues that Southwest concealed the existence of the MCAS from pilots in order to “avoid the time and expense of having pilots be trained to fly an airplane with an entirely new functionality.” According to the suit, Southwest’s purchase contract with Boeing “incentivized this mission” given Boeing would have to pay the airline “significant refunds if the 737 MAX were to require Southwest pilots to undergo training and simulation before operating the aircraft.”
Any training pilots received on the new MCAS was “woefully inadequate,” creating a dangerous situation any time the plane flew, the case says. Even the FAA itself, according to the suit, did not have “adequate awareness” of the many design and operational issues plaguing the 737 MAX, as many of the system’s parameters were never documented by the agency.
“Accordingly, Southwest’s pilots were neither ‘trained’ on nor ‘familiar with’ Southwest’s 737 MAX, in violation of Southwest’s promises to Plaintiffs and the Class members,” the lawsuit reads. “Indeed, Southwest’s pilots remained untrained in connection with the operation of the MCAS and related systems even after Southwest’s reluctant revelation in the wake of the Lion Air crash that the MCAS existed.”
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