WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US-based Delta Air Lines is being sued for more than US$1 billion (S$1.3 billion) by one of its own pilots, who claims he developed a text-messaging app for flight crews that the airline stole and used as the basis for its own app.
Captain Craig Alexander sued Atlanta-based Delta for theft of trade secrets in a Georgia state court on Monday (July 12).
He claimed he spent US$100,000 of his own money to develop his QrewLive app, which he pitched to the airline as a way to address crew communication snafus after disrupted flights. Delta turned him down but went on to launch its own identical tool, he said.
Delta "stole like a thief in the night" and defrauded its own loyal employee, Mr Keenan Nix, a lawyer for Mr Alexander, said on Wednesday in an interview. He said the pilot, an 11-year veteran at the airline, was flying a Delta 757 "as we speak".
Delta spokesman Morgan Durrant said in a statement: "While we take the allegations specified in Mr Alexander's complaint seriously, they are not an accurate or fair description of Delta's development of its internal crew messaging platform."
A five-hour power outage that resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations in August 2016 cost Delta more than US$150 million. The pilot said in the suit that he e-mailed chief executive officer Ed Bastian at the time, saying he had a solution. Mr Bastian allegedly responded promptly and referred Mr Alexander to the company's new chief information officer.
Mr Bastian and CIO Rahul Samant are both named in the suit, along with four other Delta executives.
Mr Alexander claimed he had several positive meetings with the airline in 2015 and 2016 in which executives made clear they were interested in acquiring his app. But Delta eventually cut off discussions and then launched its own crew app in April 2018, called Flight Family Communications (FFC).
"FFC is a carbon copy, knock-off of the role-based text-messaging component of (my) proprietary QrewLive communications platform," Mr Alexander said in his suit.
The pilot noted in his suit that Mr Bastian and Mr Samant have both bragged to investors that the app has smoothed operations.
In describing the damages he is seeking, Mr Alexander said the value of the technology, "based solely upon operational cost savings to Delta, conservatively exceeds US$1 billion". He is also seeking punitive damages against Delta.
"To add insult to theft and injury, Captain Craig Alexander must use his stolen QrewLive text-messaging platform every day while he works for Delta," the suit claimed.
"Each time he looks at the FFC app, he is painfully reminded that Delta stole his proprietary trade secrets, used them to Delta's enormous financial benefit."