The relationship between Southwest Airlines Co. and the Boeing Company was special, according to the complaint for this class action. And when Boeing brought out the flawed 737 MAX 8, the complaint alleges, Southwest helped cover up the plane’s fatal deficiencies.
How did the two companies help each other? The complaint says that Boeing agreed to give Southwest the lowest prices on its aircraft. Southwest would operate a large fleet of Boeing aircraft and “when Boeing needed Southwest, it would be there to backstop Boeing…”
Boeing designed the Max 8 with a change in weight distribution that would tend to make the plane’s nose tilt up. The complaint says, “Rather than retrain pilots already trained on other 737 models, … Boeing’s solution was to design and implement the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (“MCAS”), a computer-controlled system that would automatically adjust for the MAX 8’s new weight distribution by, among other things, automatically pitching the nose of the airplane down as necessary.”
To make this work, Boeing put two angle of attack (AoA) sensors on the plane’s nose, but read signals from only one. Unfortunately, the complaint alleges, the sensor often malfunctioned. In addition, “Boeing failed to install on Southwest’s MAX 8s a crucial indicator that could alert a pilot to the failure of an AoA Sensor.” It did place in some planes a device that could tell if the two sensors disagreed, but airlines had to pay extra for it.
To avoid the delay in having to retrain pilots, the complaint says, Boeing and Southwest did not even tell pilots about the existence of the MCAS. Even if a pilot knew that an AoA was malfunctioning, “he or she would not know why the airplane was taking absolute control of the plane’s pitch and summarily rejecting the pilot’s contrary inputs…”
Furthermore, to disengage the MCAS, pilots had to disable and override the plane’s entire electric trim system. In a crisis situation, pilots would have only seconds in which to figure this out and assert manual control.
After the Lion Air crash, the complaint says, Boeing could have fixed the problems. Instead, it says, Boeing and Southwest joined to limit the damage to Boeing’s and the plane’s reputations, giving the impression that the crash was due to pilot error.
In March 2019, and Ethiopian Airlines flight went down, again because of the MCAS.
Southwest kept flying the MAX 8 until March 13, when the FAA grounded the planes. Right up until that time, the complaint says, Southwest and Boeing were still trying to conceal the aircraft’s problems.
The complaint proposes two classes.
Several subclasses have also been proposed.