Buffett’s NetJets Sues Pilots’ Union For Defamation Over Safety, Training Claims

NetJets, the luxury plane unit of billionaire Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc, sued its 3,400-member pilots union for defamation over statements about its commitment to safety and training pilots.

The lawsuit filed in a state court in Columbus, Ohio, where NetJets is based, seeks unspecified damages, and follows years of often contentious relations between the company and the NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots.

“NJASAP stands by the concerns we have raised about pilot training and the safety and maintenance cultures–concerns that have only increased in intensity in recent months,” the union’s president Pedro Leroux said on Wednesday. “We view the lawsuit as an attempt to silence us.”

NetJets declined to discuss the lawsuit on Thursday, but said “our focus is on providing the exceptional safety and service our owners expect and deserve.”

The company employs “fractional” ownership, which lets people buy shares of private planes and travel on short notice.

Buffett flies on NetJets planes, and in 2015 told Berkshire shareholders “we have no anti-union agenda whatsoever.”

In Monday’s lawsuit, NetJets accused its union of making false and defamatory statements through press releases, newspaper ads and social media to damage its reputation with customers, employees and the public.

These included suggestions that NetJets cared more about saving money than safety, used a defective flight planning system that could send aircraft into dangerous weather, and employed many new unqualified or inadequately trained pilots.

The company also objected to a Jan. 26, 2024 ad in the Wall Street Journal that referenced therecent mid-air cabin panel blowout on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 9 and said: “NetJets Owners: What if you looked out your window and saw a panel of the plane?”

NetJets does not fly Boeing aircraft.

In April 2023, the union sued NetJets for allegedly interfering with its communications about contract negotiations.

A federal judge in Columbus dismissed that case in January, saying he lacked jurisdiction and that NetJets “has not struck a fundamental blow to the union.”

Berkshire, based in Omaha, Nebraska, employed 396,440 people at year end, including 8,349 at NetJets. Most are not unionized.

The case is NetJets Inc et al v NetJets Association of Shared Aircraft Pilots, Court of Common Pleas, Franklin County, Ohio, No. 24CV004374.

(Reporting by Stempel in New York; Editing by Jamie Freed and Nick Zieminski)