Czech airline Smartwings filed suit against Boeing in Seattle on Tuesday for the damage to its business from the fatal crashes and subsequent grounding of the 737 MAX.
In the suit, moved by a judge to King County Superior Court from a court in Boeing’s headquarter city of Chicago, the airline is seeking compensation for the financial losses incurred as well as the return of one airplane and the refund of payments on that jet and advance payments on others.
Boeing declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Smartwings ordered a total of eight MAXs directly from Boeing and, persuaded by the jet maker that it should switch to an all-MAX fleet, agreed to lease an additional 31 MAXs.
It took its first delivery of a MAX in January 2018 in a direct purchase from Boeing and took six more leased planes straight from the Renton assembly plant before the jet was grounded after the second crash in March 2019.
At various locations — including Renton; Moses Lake in Central Washington; San Antonio, Texas; and Victorville, California — Boeing had at one point stored a total of 13 undelivered MAXs built originally for Smartwings. Most of those have already been remarketed to new buyers.
The airline’s complaint alleges that in implementing a software addition to the MAX’s flight controls, “Boeing chose a cheap and hastily implemented bandaid” rather than more expensive aerodynamic changes to the airframe.
Smartwings also alleges that Boeing failed to conduct a full safety evaluation of the failure modes of the software, known as the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, and then “misled the Federal Aviation Administration and other regulators regarding the nature and purpose of MCAS.”
It further accuses Boeing of “material misrepresentations and nondisclosures” to pilots and the airline for not flagging the existence of MCAS before the first crash and of “gross negligence and fraud.”
After the first crash in October 2018 of a Lion Air MAX in Indonesia, Smartwings officials wrote to Boeing demanding answers about the safety of the system but received no substantive response, according to the complaint.
“Smartwings would not have committed to an all-MAX fleet or accepted delivery of any MAX had it known what has since been uncovered by outside investigators and what Boeing has grudgingly admitted,” the complaint states.
After Boeing developed a fix for the flaws in MCAS, the FAA late last year approved the MAX’s return to service. It’s currently flying with four major U.S. airlines — Alaska, American, Southwest and United — as well as with overseas airlines.
Smartwings has formally canceled its remaining direct orders with Boeing, yet alleges that the jet maker has breached the contract termination agreement by not returning $833,332 in advance deposits paid by Smartwings for two of those aircraft.
The lawsuit asks for this to be refunded, plus the rescindment of the purchase agreement for the one jet it bought directly from Boeing and the return of all payments on that aircraft.
It further demands “damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”
The MAX crisis has prompted a variety of lawsuits, including ongoing cases on behalf of the families of those who died in the crashes.
In at least one other customer lawsuit, by Irish aircraft lessor Timaero, in March a judge in Chicago threw out allegations similar to those raised by Smartwings that Boeing committed fraud.
Timaero’s remaining case against Boeing alleges breach of contract and has also been transferred to King County Superior Court.