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Leader of pilots’ union blasts Boeing over grounded plane

DALLAS — The union president of Southwest Airlines pilots worries that Boeing may be rushing the 737 Max back into service, and he says Southwest should consider buying planes from another company.

The union president, Jon Weaks, says Boeing is raising the threat of shutting down the Max assembly line to pressure regulators to let the plane fly again soon and force airlines to resume making payments on their Max jets and absorb some costs of getting the planes back in the air.

“Boeing will never, and should not ever, be given the benefit of the doubt again,” Weaks said. “The combination of arrogance, ignorance, and greed should and will haunt Boeing for eternity.”

The comments highlight the tension between Boeing and pilots, a group that Boeing is counting on to help assure the public that the plane will be safe after changes to flight-control systems that played a role in two crashes that killed 346 people.

In a statement Thursday, Boeing Co. said, “We look forward to working with pilots, flight attendants and our airline customers to re-earn their trust. The MAX will only be certified once regulators are completely satisfied that we have made all updates required and they determine the plane is safe to return to service.”

Weaks made the comments in a memo Wednesday to members of the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association, which is already suing Boeing over money that pilots have lost due to flights that were cancelled after the Max was grounded in March.

Southwest has taken Max jets out of its schedule until early March. The airline’s fleet consists entirely of Boeing 737s, most of them earlier versions of the plane. Last month, CEO Gary Kelly said the airline’s board has directed him to look into diversifying its fleet, a study he said will probably occur next year.

“I strongly concur with Southwest exploring obtaining a different and perhaps non-Boeing aircraft for the best interest of all our futures,” Weaks told pilots.

Earlier this week, Boeing said it expected to resume deliveries of Max jets in December and get Federal Aviation Administration approval of a new pilot-training program in January, the last major step before airlines could resume flights with the Max.

David Koenig, The Associated Press