Back in August 2016, after a five-hour power outage forced Delta Airlines to cancel hundreds of flights costing the airline more than $150 million, Captain Craig Alexander came up with a brilliant idea for a text messaging app for flight crews. Alexander claims to have spent $100,000 of his own money and developed the QrewLive app which is designed to help flight crews communicate when issues surface after a disrupted flight.
Pilot develops app which he claims Delta stole to create its own version; lawsuit seeks more than $1 billion from the airline
The pilot pitched the app to Delta which originally showed an interest in acquiring it in 2015 and 2016. Instead of closing a deal with the pilot though, Delta ended discussions and launched its own crew app it named Flight Family Communications
(FFC). Alexander's attorney, Keenan Nix, said that Delta "stole like a thief in the night" from its own employee. The Captain has flown 11 years for Delta and while Bloomberg
was speaking with his lawyer, he was in the middle of piloting a 757 for the airline.
The plaintiff and developer of the app, Captain Craig Alexander, has flown 11 years for Delta
A Delta spokesman, Morgan Durrant, said, "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." The lawsuit goes into more detail, mentioning an email that Alexander wrote to Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian saying that the Captain had a solution for the issue that cost Delta all of that money. The executive responded by referring Alexander to the company’s new chief information officer Rahul Samant.
Bastian and Samant are named in the suit along with four other Delta executives. The plaintiff goes on to state that "FFC" is a carbon copy, knock-off of the role-based text messaging component of Craig's proprietary QrewLive communications platform." The suit also includes a claim made to investors by Delta CEO Bastian and its CIO Samant stating that Delta's FFC app has smoothed operations and was helping increase the airline's on-time performance.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
, on an average day, Delta's FFC app sends 11,000 messages and more when the weather is bad. The pilot accuses Delta of using his QrewLive app to develop its Flight Family Communications even though he was supposed to be protected by a non-disclosure agreement.
Plaintiff/Pilot says Delta's FFC app is a "carbon copy knock-off" of his app
When it comes to the damages that Alexander is seeking, he says that the value of the purloined technology "based solely upon operational cost savings to Delta, conservatively exceeds $1 billion." Besides seeking damages in excess of $1 billion, the pilot seeks punitive damages from Delta. According to the suit, "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, (and) used them to Delta’s enormous financial benefit."
While most companies own the rights to anything produced by their employees, the pilot stresses that he put his own time and money into the app. And when the airline originally started negotiating with Alexander, it supposedly told him that Delta would be willing to purchase the app from him at the same terms it would pay an outside firm. That would seem to validate the pilot's position that the company he works for stole his technology.
Delta claims that its app works well, replacing the old methods used to communicate among crew members including two-way radios, word of mouth, jetway phones, and runs down the jet bridge to spread messages between crew members.