It’s not every day you see a pilot file a $1 billion lawsuit against the airline they work for…
Pilot sues Delta over text messaging app
Craig Alexander is an active Delta Boeing 757 captain who is suing Delta for $1 billion in Georgia state court for trade-secrets theft. He claims that he developed a text messaging app for flight crews that the airline ended up stealing. He had pitched the concept to Delta, was turned down, and then Delta allegedly launched a very similar app.
According to the lawsuit:
- Alexander spent over $100,000 of his own money to develop the QrewLiveApp, intended to address crew communications challenges, following flight disruptions at the airline
- Alexander had several positive meetings with executives at the airline in 2015 and 2016, and they expressed interest in acquiring his app
- Eventually Delta cut off communications, and in April 2018 the airline launched its own app, named Flight Family Communication (FFC), which is a “carbon copy, knock-off of the role-based text messaging component” of the QrewLive app
- Alexander claims that Delta “stole like a thief in the night”
What is Delta Flight Family Communication?
Here’s how Delta described the concept of FFC when it was launched in 2018:
The innovative and proprietary Flight Family Communication platform ensures employees, or flight family members, working an assigned Delta flight have the ability to communicate directly with one another about the status of dozens of tasks and customer service items required before departure – think catering, cleaning, fueling, accounting for carry-on and checked bags, inspecting aircraft, etc.
The real-time digital conversation stream is visible to pilots on electronic flight bag tablets, to flight attendants via handheld SkyPro devices, and on desktop platforms for gate agents, flight dispatchers, system operations managers and Airport Customer Service Tower personnel. It provides each with shared awareness from their own work spaces in the airport or around the aircraft about the status of pre-flight activities, instead of relying on word of mouth, radios and jetway phones to relay information through multiple people — an antiquated process that airlines have been beholden to for decades.
Is this a billion dollar lawsuit?
Alexander claims that the app that Delta ended up launching has significantly smoothed operations, and he states that the value of the app “based solely upon operational cost savings to Delta, conservatively exceeds $1 billion.”
Alexander 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. 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.”
What’s Delta’s side of the story? A Delta spokesperson had the following to say about the lawsuit:
“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.”
I’m obviously no lawyer, but here are my general first impressions:
- I don’t have enough context or information to know whether Delta did in fact steal this idea from the pilot
- Even if Delta did “steal” this idea, the billion dollar lawsuit seems just a bit rich, since he essentially wants all of Delta’s upside from operations running more smoothly as a result of an internal messaging system
- While it’s possible that the pilot’s app had some unique features, one would think that the concept of a messaging app between employees as such isn’t that novel
A Delta Air Lines captain is suing his airline for $1 billion, claiming the airline stole the concept of his app. According to the lawsuit, he had spent over $100,000 of his own money developing the app and was in discussions with Delta about selling it. The airline eventually turned him down, but then created a messaging system that was very similar.
The pilot is now seeking $1 billion in damages, claiming that this is conservatively the operational cost savings to the airline for the new messaging app.
I’m curious to see what comes of this…
What do you make of this billion dollar lawsuit against Delta?