American Airlines’ nasty labor dispute with its mechanics escalated from major summer travel annoyance to scary situation Thursday when a mechanic was arrested for allegedly trying to sabotage a July flight with 150 people on board.
Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, a mechanic at American’s Miami hub, was charged with “willfully damaging, destroying, disabling, or wrecking an aircraft” in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in Miami.
The tampering was discovered after American pilots got an error message on Flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, on July 17 and aborted takeoff. The plane was taken out of service.
Surveillance footage shows Alani at the gate before the flight and the complaint says he deliberately obstructed the ADM (air data module) system using a dark, Styrofoam-type material.
Alani told law enforcement officials he was “upset at the stalled contract dispute between the union workers and American Airlines, and that this dispute had affected him financially.”
Alani said he did not intend to harm the plane or passengers. He said he tampered with the plane to cause a flight delay or cancellation in hopes of earning overtime, the complaint says.
American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein issued this statement late Thursday in response to the criminal complaint:
“On July 17, flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, returned to the gate due to a maintenance issue. Passengers boarded a new aircraft which then re-departed for Nassau. At American we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members and we are taking this matter very seriously. At the time of the incident, the aircraft was taken out of service, maintenance was performed and after an inspection to ensure it was safe the aircraft was returned to service. American immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation with our full cooperation.”
American filed a lawsuit in May against its mechanics unions, saying a concerted work slowdown caused thousands of flight cancellations and delays.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Texas against the Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (TWU). The two sides have been in contract talks since 2015 following the American-US Airways merger.
American said mechanics were unlawfully engaging in a slowdown to gain leverage in negotiations. The lawsuit said they were taking an “inordinately long time to repair aircraft” and refusing to work overtime.
“The odds of this being random as opposed to concerted activity is less than one-in-one billion,” the lawsuit says.
The airline received a preliminary injunction and a permanent injunction against the union, but executives have said some work actions continue. The two sides are due to resume contract negotiations in mid-September under the oversight of the National Mediation Board.
American President Robert Isom on Wednesday acknowledged the airline’s mass cancellations at an investor conference in Boston and said a leader with the mechanics’ union warned him it was going to be a “long, hot summer.”
“He was right. They delivered on that,” Isom said.
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