Suspended routes are stacking up as American, Southwest wait for beleaguered 737 Max.

Suspended routes are stacking up as American, Southwest wait for beleaguered 737 Max. (David Bro/Zuma Press/TNS)

DALLAS - Southwest Airlines pilots are suing airplane-maker Boeing for financial losses from the grounding of the 737 Max.

The union says the Dallas-based airline has lost more than 30,000 scheduled flights since the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the jets in March. Pilots, they say, have lost $100 million in wages since the grounding.

"Boeing knew or should have known that the 737 MAX was unsafe, un-airworthy, and placed SWAPA pilots, the passengers in their care, and others, in danger," says the lawsuit filed by the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

Boeing 737 Max jets have been grounded worldwide since March after plane crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia killed a combined 346 passengers and crew members. The crashes have been linked to a faulty software system and sensor meant to keep the plane flying level.

"As pilots, there is nothing more important to us than the safety of our passengers," said a statement from Capt. Jon Weaks, president of Southwest Airlines Pilots Association. "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."

Boeing hoped to get the planes flying within a few weeks of the March grounding, but it's been nearly seven months. Boeing says it hopes to get the plane certified to fly early in the fourth quarter, which started a week ago.

The plane manufacturer said in an email to Bloomberg that it considers the lawsuit to be "meritless."

"We will continue to work with Southwest Airlines and its pilots on efforts to safely return the Max to service," Boeing said.

Andrew Watterson, chief revenue officer for Southwest, said the airline has lost about 10% of its flying capacity because it operated 34 Max jets at the time of the grounding and additional planes were to be delivered throughout the year.

Southwest said it doesn't expect to fly the Max again this year, but Weaks said it probably won't be back in service until at least March.

Boeing has earmarked $4.9 billion to pay for Max-related issues, including payments to those killed in the crashes. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said the company is talking with Boeing and said he hopes to share some money from a settlement with employees, including pilots.

The Southwest pilot's union took it a step further with the lawsuit, saying the company's 10,000 pilots have seen reduced work hours from the 737 Max being grounded.

In the lawsuit filed in Dallas County, the union is also accusing Boeing of taking safety shortcuts.

"Boeing made a calculated decision to rush a re-engined aircraft to market to secure its single-aisle market share and prioritize its bottom line," the lawsuit said. "In doing so, 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."

At both Dallas-based Southwest and Fort Worth-based American Airlines, leaders are leaning on pilots to convince the public that the 737 Max will be safe to fly again. Without the jets, each airline faces a sizable shortage of aircraft.

At a conference last week, Allied Pilots Association President Eric Ferguson said American Airlines will look for compensation from Boeing in the same way that Southwest pilots are.

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said talks about compensation are still preliminary with Boeing, but he said money for impacted employees would likely come from profit-sharing.

Southwest and Boeing are also facing a lawsuit from Southwest customers, who say each company was aware of problems with the 737 Max when it was still flying and sold tickets despite safety risks.

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