Southwest Airlines, American Air pilots get US subpoenas on Boeing 737 Max

Southwest has the largest Max fleet, with 34 planes and additional orders for more than 200. PHOTO: AFP

DALLAS, UNITED STATES (BLOOMBERG) - Pilots' unions at Southwest Airlines and American Airlines Group received federal grand jury subpoenas for documents relating to Boeing's grounded 737 Max.

The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association was given until May 24 to comply with the demand from the US Justice Department's criminal division, union President Jon Weaks said Friday (May 10). The Allied Pilots Association, which represents aviators at American, also received a subpoena, said a person familiar with the matter.

Investigators are probing Boeing's development of the Max, a popular single-aisle model that's been grounded since mid-March after crashing twice in five months. In both disasters, a new software system known as MCAS repeatedly shoved the nose of the doomed jets down, eventually overwhelming pilots. Congress and the Transportation Department also are examining the Federal Aviation Administration's approval of the aircraft.

"I don't know what aspect they are investigating," Weaks said in an interview. "They just want to know what we have on the Max. We knew it would come eventually."

The Southwest pilots' union will probably seek an extension of the deadline because of the time needed to search through documents, emails and other papers for Max-related items, he said.

Southwest has the largest Max fleet, with 34 planes and additional orders for more than 200. American has 24 of the jets.

The Air Line Pilots Association didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it had gotten a subpoena. The union represents pilots at carriers including United Continental Holdings and WestJet Airlines, which also fly the Max.

At least one former Boeing engineer has also been subpoenaed in connection with the Max, the company's best-selling plane.

US investigators began a probe weeks after a Lion Air Max 8 plunged into the Java Sea near Jakarta on Oct 29. An Ethiopian Airlines jet crashed minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa on March 10, bringing the death toll from the two accidents to 346. The Max, the newest version of the 737, began flying commercially in May 2017.

A law enforcement agent with the Transportation Department Inspector General's office has contacted at least one FAA official to ask how the MCAS system was certified, Bloomberg reported in March. Another facet of the inquiry has focused on why Boeing didn't flag the feature in pilot manuals.

A Congressional hearing is set for May 15.

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