The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association (SWAPA) said on Monday it filed a lawsuit against Boeing Co alleging that the grounding of the planemaker’s 737 MAX aircraft had caused over $100 million in lost wages.
Southwest Airlines is the largest operator of the MAX with 34 jetliners in its fleet at the time of a worldwide grounding in March following two fatal crashes that together killed 346 people.
The budget friendly carrier had 41 more MAX jets on order for this year alone, but deliveries remain frozen, forcing more than 100 daily flight cancellations and reduced flying time for pilots.
In a statement, SWAPA said the lawsuit alleges its pilots agreed to fly 737 MAX jets based on Boeing’s representations they were airworthy and similar to previous, “time-tested” 737 models they had flown for years.
“These representations were false,” SWAPA said.
Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers said: “While we value our long relationship with SWAPA, we believe this lawsuit is meritless and will vigorously defend against it.”
The planemaker will continue to work with Southwest and its pilots on efforts to safely return the MAX to service, he said.
Boeing is under pressure to deliver updated software and training to regulators in order for the aircraft to fly again, and has been negotiating compensation with customers like Southwest over the financial hit from the grounding.
“It is critical that Boeing takes whatever time is necessary to safely return the MAX to service,” said SWAPA president, Captain Jon Weaks. But he added that pilots “should not be expected to take a significant and ever-expanding financial loss as a result of Boeing’s negligence.”
SWAPA estimated that the 737 MAX grounding had wiped out more than 30,000 scheduled Southwest flights, reducing the airline’s passenger service by 8% by the end of 2019.
Southwest is scheduling without the MAX until at least early January, pending regulatory approval for commercial flight.
Pilots at American Airlines Group, which so far has canceled MAX flights through early December, have also demanded compensation for lost pay related to the 737 MAX grounding, but have not filed a lawsuit.
SWAPA, which represents around 10,000 Southwest pilots, said it filed the lawsuit in the District Court of Dallas County, Texas.
Last month Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly promised the airline would share any reimbursement from Boeing over the MAX grounding with its employees.