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Pilot Sues Delta for $1 Billion Claiming the Airline Stole Crew App

Date: July 15, 2021

By , Bloomsberg

Delta Air Lines Inc. was sued for more than $1 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 trade-secrets theft in Georgia state court on Monday. He claims he spent $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 claims.

Delta “stole like a thief in the night” and defrauded its own loyal employee, Keenan Nix, a lawyer for Alexander, said Wednesday in an interview. He said Alexander, an 11-year veteran at the airline, was flying a Delta 757 “as we speak.”

Morgan Durrant, a Delta spokesperson, 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 $150 million. The pilot said in the suit he emailed Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian at the time saying “he had a ‘solution.’” Bastian allegedly responded promptly and referred Alexander to the company’s new chief information officer.

‘Carbon Copy’

Bastian and the CIO, Rahul Samant, are both named in the suit, along with four other Delta executives. Alexander claims 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’ is a carbon copy, knock-off of the role-based text messaging component of Craig’s proprietary QrewLive communications platform,” Alexander said in his suit.

The pilot noted in his suit that Bastian and Samant have both bragged to investors that the app has smoothed operations. In describing the damages he’s seeking, Alexander said the value of the technology, “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,” the suit claims. “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.”

The pilot could face a challenge pursuing his claims as a Delta employee, as companies typically own the rights to anything produced by their workers. In his suit Alexander stressed that he put his own time and resources into QrewLive and said Delta indicated it would be willing to purchase the app from him on the same terms as from an outside vendor.

The case is Alexander v. Delta Air Lines Inc., 21A03275, Georgia State Court, DeKalb County.

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