American Airlines Mechanic Arrested For Sabotaging Plane

Filed Under: American

Update: We’ve learned some troubling details about the American mechanic behind this; the mechanic ended up being sentenced to 37 months in prison.

I think it’s safe to say that American Airlines’ disagreement with their mechanics has just reached a whole new level. Is it kind of sad that I’m not even surprised to read a story about an American Airlines mechanic intentionally trying to make a plane unsafe?

American Mechanic Arrested For Sabotaging Plane

This Thursday an American Airlines mechanic was arrested, and he’ll have his first appearance in court today.

The mechanic in question, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, is charged with “willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft.” The veteran mechanic allegedly attempted to disable a navigation system on a plane that was about to carry about 150 people to Nassau on July 17, operating as AA2834.

As the pilots powered up the plane’s engines they received an error message, so they ended up returning to the gate so that the plane could be taken out of service.

At that point it was determined that the system had been tampered with — specifically, a tube had been found obstructed with a hard foam material (it’s not clear if they’re talking about the pitot tube here, or what).

American Airlines 737

What Was The Mechanic’s Motive?

Alani told federal investigators that his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers. Rather he was upset over stalled contract negotiations between the mechanics union and management, saying that the dispute had affected him financially.

He also claimed that he only did what he did in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work. Great, so he broke something so that he’d be able to fix it during overtime.

All of this was discovered from video footage, where on the morning of July 17 they saw him approach the plane, and then over the course of seven minutes he accessed the compartment where the navigational system was located.

A few things to note regarding his side of the story:

  • Personally I’d give him the benefit of the doubt in saying that he didn’t intend to harm passengers, since it was highly likely this was going to be caught before departure
  • At the same time, did he really do this in order to get overtime, or did he do it out of spite? Keep in mind that a big problem American has been having with their mechanics is that they’ve been refusing overtime, and it seems like there has been plenty of overtime to go around…

American Airlines planes at Chicago O’Hare

What’s Going On With American Airlines Mechanics?

For those of you who haven’t been following along, this is just the latest in the saga between American Airlines and their mechanics. This will no doubt send a strong signal to other mechanics, as this is the first time we’re seeing a mechanic charged criminally for what they’ve done as part of these disputes.

Essentially contract negotiations have stalled between American and the union representing their mechanics. Talks stopped in April, as the two sides haven’t been able to reach an agreement.

As a result, it has been a really rough summer for American Airlines operationally. We’ve seen American mechanics intentionally delay flights over every little thing possible, as a way of sending a message to management. They figure if they can’t get the contract they want, they’ll prove a point the best way they can, by trying to bring down American’s operations.

The head of the union has threatened the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement has ever seen.

At this point management has the upper hand, though, as American won a court ruling against the mechanics, as we saw a judge rule in favor of management.

American Airlines 777-200

American’s Contract Dispute Hasn’t Made Us Safer

I’ve witnessed American mechanics playing games firsthand. Obviously what the mechanic did above is extreme, as he endangered the lives of passengers. Otherwise we’ve seen mechanics ground planes unnecessarily, by refusing to defer maintenance items that are non-critical, among other things.

As I’ve written about these situations, a lot of people have said “you should be happy, there has never been a safer time to fly American.”

I’ve thought all along that’s complete garbage, and continue to think so, and this is the perfect example of why. I don’t care how “thorough” mechanics are when they’re also incredibly disgruntled and hate the company they’re working for, and are threatening “subway style” tactics and a “bloody battle.”

I don’t want the people responsible for my life hating the company they work for, and wanting to prove a point. This is the perfect example of why.

American Airlines 767

Bottom Line

American Airlines and their mechanics are expected to resume contract negotiations next week, and frankly that can’t come soon enough. It’s time that the two sides are on the same page, not just so American can be a more punctual airline, but also so they can be a safer airline.

This particular mechanic completely crossed the line, and I’m sure he will be punished accordingly. At the same time, I also totally see how this could happen — this is basically just one step beyond what many mechanics have been doing for months.

  1. It’s one thing to delay flights with so-called “minor” defects, but this is way out of line. The mechanics will not receive much sympathy with this.

  2. I just moved to the Philly area, but I swear I’ll do whatever I can to avoid AA flights until this dispute has long been resolved. Missing United out of EWR, believe it or not.

  3. Saying he didn’t intend to harm passengers (and crew) is irrelevant, he intended and succeeded in sabotaging an aircraft and this could have had a disastrous result and there is simply no excuse to putting 150 lives in peril. Perhaps it was ‘highly likely’ that it would have been found, but there is a more than zero chance it wasn’t, maybe that day a pre-flight checklist was glanced over and it wasn’t detected… than what? 150 people killed because of an intentional action he took. A person with this psychological state and clear inability to see the potential outcome of their action has no place being any where near an aircraft, and if proved guilty should not see the outside of a prison for a very long time.

  4. “Personally I’d give him the benefit of the doubt in saying that he didn’t intend to harm passengers, since it was highly likely this was going to be caught before departure.”

    Or, you could say that you aren’t interested in his motive but you are interested in what the result of his tampering might have been should it not have been found before the plane took flight.

  5. I’m not familiar with US laws, but willful intent to sabotage a commercial flight would seem like a terrorism charge no? regardless of reason behind intent, race or religion?

  6. Very simple. Send this terrorist to Guantanimo for some enhanced interrogation – who else might he know that was in on this plot?

  7. @MKLDH “now we are seeing some really ugly comments about the person’s race and religion” not a single comment (so far) mentions race or religion – if you mean people calling this person a “terrorist”, that has nothing to do with race or religion as the sole definition is to do with causing terror no matter race, religion, nationality or belief, which sabotaging an aircraft and potentially killing 150 people would be a pretty accurate definition.

    If you’ve made the connection between terrorism and his race & religion that’s on you.

  8. Someone needs to break this union, and hard. If these mouth breathers don’t want to do their job they can go find somewhere else to work. The labor market is so tight that if they think they are good at something they should be able to find a job quickly. Of course, they might have to be sober which the challenge 75% of union members.

  9. Just changed my next JFK to SFO flight on AA over to Alaska.
    Flew AA out of ORD & DFW last month and experienced very long departure delays that now would make me suspicious after reading OMAT post.
    Why risk it on AA? Jeez.

  10. @Sam
    Do you really think it has nothing to do with his last name?
    Why is it that when a white American goes and shoots up a school or shop or mall or movie theater it’s called homicide and when a person with an Arab sounding doing name tries to sabotage a plane it’s called terrorism?
    What about all the other mechanics who didnt get caught?
    It has everything to do with his name and possible religion. The uglies on this board are out in full force showing their hate and ignorism.

  11. Back in May you posted a video of the Mechanic’s Union leader John Samuelson, behaving like a mob boss, promising a “bloody” battle. There are plenty of unstable head cases out there, even Union mechanics, who might interpret such language in a literal manner and act on it, despite this loser’s claim of just wanting overtime. Words matter. Samuelson needs to go.

  12. @Arie the fact is no one mentioned race or religion, that was read into the comments. And yes, mass gun violence is also called terrorism; look at Auckland; look at San Francisco declaring the NRA a terrorist organisation; look at Florida – does it happen 100% of the time? no, but plenty of news outlets classify “bad things white people do” as terrorism too.

    If you can definitively decipher a persons’ religion and race solely from their name you’re obviously more skilled at classifying people than I am. I know plenty of people that don’t fit the stereotypical norms of what you may presume based solely on their names, perhaps you shouldn’t judge without having a full picture… that’s kind of the definition of racial-profiling right…

  13. Make an example of him and that union of thugs. How can their employer trust any of them? This clown should be heading to prison for his little criminal stunt.

  14. While both sides are to blame for the AA current mess, sites like these aren’t really the place to debate because the majority of commenters are in higher income brackets, and the management side of the argument invariably gets the greater weight and sympathy.
    If there were one commenter representing a management mind-set per one commenter representing a labor/union mindset, the discussion would be more representative.
    That’s why I’m in favor (though may be a minority) of restricting the posts to topics that are directly related to travel.

    Also every profession has its bad apples. Some unethical doctors, quite a few unethical lawyers. Yet we don’t malign the entire profession…

  15. @ David: Someone needs to break this union, and hard.

    This is exactly my point in my post above. We don’t say someone needs to break up AA management, and hard. Unions (and yes they have major problems) are there for a purpose; and that purpose isn’t being bashed.

  16. @Sam:

    Ben and Tiffany have taken to no longer allowing any and all comments. Egregious comments displaying racism, bigotry, sexism, etc. are now moderated and deleted. It’s very likely @MKLDH was referring to comments that have since been removed.

  17. @Tiffany.
    Great!! While I’m not a fan of censoring per se, hate speech, even if oblique, has no place on this site.

    Have a good weekend!

  18. @at

    That’s because management is free to run a company how they see fit. You are also free to leave that company and go work for someone else. Unions have no purpose today because people are free agents. Can you make more doing something else… Then leave. Are there better working conditions elsewhere… Then leave. If you can’t, it’s time to drop the beer and look in the mirror. Labor is a market and you’re free to decide who to sell your time to.

  19. A judge has ruled that the American Airlines (AA) machinist union is causing disruptions to AA flights. The machinist union president has publicly said “If this erupts into the bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement ever saw, that’s what’s going to happen.” And now there is a mechanic who has been arrested for sabotaging an AA plane that could have resulted in multiple deaths. The TSA and FBI are investigating.

    Why hasn’t the FAA taken action? Are they waiting again for planes to crash and people to die before grounding planes that are serviced by machinist that are intent on a “bloody battle?”

    If you are concerned, visit the website and give them your feedback.

  20. THE unions have invested many dollars in AA, creating jobs,

    AA started the company, unions steal workers pensions.

  21. By now we all know that you don’t like AA. So you better stop reporting about AA incidents unless you report facts and facts only. Everything else is biased.

  22. Interesting that this AA veteran mechanic (been with AA since 1988) got caught right away, but CX still hasn’t announced the sources/reasons for their onboard oxygen tanks getting emptied on two of their trans-Pacific flights …

  23. American is to blame not the mechanic. Give the guy a slap on the wrist. He wasn’t gonna let the plane takeoff.
    What he did was the equivalent of taking a steering wheel off a car. Can’t drive without it.

  24. @Sam, unless NRA stands for Negro Resistant Aryans I don’t know that San Francisco mentioning them qualifies as calling things white guys do terrorism. First, the NRA to my knowledge has never gone out and killed people regardless of how complicit they are in the countless gun deaths we see nationwide. And second, I’m pretty certain that the NRA is multi-racial in its membership as I’m sure gun owning Americans of all stripes may have membership if such a thing interests them.

    While I don’t suspect this mechanic is a Southern Baptist or Mormon as his name obviously suggests otherwise, given the political climate in the country I’d love to know what the hell he was thinking. Do I think Arabs or Muslims are terrorists? No as I’m aware, very little gun violence in these United States are committed by Arabs or Muslims. However, having an Arab sounding name he certainly couldn’t have been so obtuse to think that wouldn’t be peoples first thought.

  25. At the end of the day, we have a major airline where the mechanics are NOT being pro-active in going the extra mile to ensure the fleet is safe. Many duties that mechanics perform are outside the original scope of work, problems are often found because they were inspecting another issue. If the mechanics have “no love” for the company, they sure as shit are not going to be 100% focused on their craft.

  26. Pitot tubes are not in “compartments”.
    Anyhow, the guy confessed sounds like.
    Seems like a one off. The guy is either extremely stupid or has mental problems.
    American general sucks from top to bottom.
    Wish I didn’t have so many FF miles to use with them.

  27. “Pitot tubes are not in “compartments”.”

    Correct, but according to the more detailed descriptions the blockage was actually within one of the ADMs (Air Data Modules). This is the unit that converts the pneumatic forces from the pitot tubes, and the associated static ports, into digitial information that is fed into the ADIRU (Air Data Inertial Reference Unit) which in turn feeds the primary flight displays along with flight management and navigation systems.
    The ADMs are located inside the aircraft and accessed from the various equipment bays. A modern aircraft will have a minimum of 6 ADMs.
    While the external pitot tubes and static ports are visually checked for obstructions on a regular basis the ADMs themselves won’t be – since that is not where a natural blockage, such as the infamous wasps which brought down a 757, would occur.
    The problem with the various physical components of the pitot-static systems is that while the electronic components all have the normal BITE systems to test the electronics there is no real way of testing the physical pressure components. It’s not until the aircraft actually starts moving that they will produce useful data that can be validated and compared to detect faults.

  28. Union thuggery, plain and simple. Has the Union condemned this mechanic or his tactics? Probably not – because they may not come out and say it, they support what this guy did.

  29. @AlliW: Good for you! Seriously. For every 100 comments of “That’s the last time I fly XYZ Airlines” I suspect not one person actually changes his/her habits. Good on you for practicing what you preach.

  30. this guy is a Terrorist and he should go to jail for the rest of his entire life,
    AA is a great airline, and I will keep flying AA

  31. What does the union guy mean “bloody”? Does that mean passengers’ blood? Without passengers, the whole airline is dead along with all of their jobs, so why do something that hurts passengers when they are actually angry with the management? That doesn’t make sense. Bad, very bad and extremely unsettling.

  32. This man has no mercy for any human life. How did he get this job? He should serve life sentence for attempted murder of 150 people.

    I would be very disappointed if he gets away with this. They need to punish hard so it never happens again for an intentional action that could have potentially caused severe life loss.

    Think of those passengers and their families, children, spouses, parents. This mechanic does not deserve to live in America, but does need to be jailed for life with his hateful disposition so he doesn’t try something else.

    Take a real look at the Malaysia flight, the pilot was in court appearance on a labor dispute a few days prior to takeoff and disappearance of the plane.

    I work for federal us gov and we are only allowed to work 8 hours per day 5 days a week. No overtime. The maximum overtime is 5 hours per week if they do allow. Usually the overtime is denied.

    Let’s take out the overtime on plane mechanics and hire more mechanics.
    That should solve the greed portion.

    I remodeled a house and had the same issues. Contractors fix one item and break another. It’s an evil mind that does these things to honest Americans who are always willing to help others.

    Big changes have to be made to protect all of us Americans and especially our children and grandchildren.

  33. Very strange language for which I have heard more than once at Marriott.
    Our staff didn’t intend to do that to you.
    Didn’t intend to harm me, didn’t intend to break your DND, didn’t intend to harm you by putting that bad food in the lounge.
    Of course they shouldn’t have intended to, otherwise why would they be employed at a Marriott. I think it a sad excuse that Marriott have taught their managers this excuse to use.

    However, this guy intended to cause problems. Maybe he didn’t want to harm people. No matter, its criminal because there was intent, and if it had gone wrong it would be murder of 150+.

    A strong prosecution on this to put fear in others even thinking about it.

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