The arrest of a veteran American Airlines mechanic this week for allegedly sabotaging a plane at Miami International Airport an hour before takeoff in July sparked condemnation by the airline and its mechanics union Friday — and raised troubling safety concerns for travelers.
And there was a major new development: the 60-year-old mechanic was fired from Alaska Airlines a decade ago, after a series of “missteps that led to multiple FAA investigations” and later unsuccessfully sued the airline for discrimination, according to a report by Business Insider.
Alaska spokesman Ray Lane confirmed Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was an avionics technician and line avionics technician who worked for Seattle-based Alaska from January-August 1990 and again from June 1998-July 2008. He declined to comment on his personnel record or reason for leaving.
Those dates overlap with his employment at American, which he joined in 1988 and was based in Miami, so it’s unclear how he held both jobs or whether American knew his job history. The airline does not forbid employees to hold two jobs, with some exceptions.
In a letter to employees, the world’s largest airline called Alani’s alleged tampering of a Boeing 737-800 bound for the Bahamas with 150 people on board an “extremely serious” incident and said it was “disturbing and disappointing to all of us.”
Senior Vice President David Seymour suggested, though, that such tampering was a rare occurrence.
“The allegations involve one individual who compromised the safety of one of our aircraft,” he said in the letter. “Fortunately, with appropriate safety protocols and processes, this individual’s actions were discovered and mitigated before our aircraft flew.”
The TWU/IAM Association, which has been locked in contentious contract negotiations and a legal battle with American over what the airline calls an illegal work action this summer, condemned the incident. Alani told investigators he blocked a key computer system to force the delay or cancellation of the flight because he was upset about the stalled contract negotiations and said it hurt him financially.
A statement signed by association director Sito Pantoja and vice director Alex Garcia says:
“The TWU/IAM Association condemns, in the strongest possible terms, any conduct by any individual that jeopardizes the safe operation of an aircraft safety is the number one priority for our IAM and TWU members involved in the maintenance and operation of aircraft. These members are the most highly trained safety professionals in the airline industry. As a result, the US air transportation system is the safest in the world. Any conduct that jeopardizes that safety is not tolerated or condoned by the leadership or members of our organizations.”
How easy is it for an airline employee to tamper with a plane?
“The ease of access is definitely there,” said Bill Waldock, professor of safety science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
Mechanics and pilots walk around planes every day before and after flights to work on or check out the aircraft. All are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration and go through a background check.
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