An American Airlines mechanic based at Miami airport was arrested by agents from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Thursday on suspicion of sabotaging an aircraft which was about to depart with 150 passengers on board. Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, a longtime employee of the airline, is due to appear in court on Friday charged with ‘wilfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft’.
Alani allegedly told investigators that he was unhappy with stalled contract negotiations between American Airlines and the Transport Workers Union (TWU). The two sides have been locked in a bitter contract dispute for months and only last month the Dallas Fort-Worth-based airline won a permanent injunction against the union.
The airline had alleged that mechanics had been involved in a deliberate work shutdown after the number of maintenance-related delays skyrocketed. Both American Airlines and the TWU have recently agreed to go back to the negotiating table but the alleged sabotage took place on 17th July on flight AA2834 which was destined for Nassau in the Bahamas.
There were a total of 150 passengers and crew on board the aircraft.
According to information presented to the court, the plane had spent around two hours in Miami after arriving from Orlando. Apart from a minor maintenance issue, there were no other reported issues with the aircraft. But just before taxiing onto the runway, an error message showed a problem with the air data module that reports critical flight information such as speed and pitch.
The pilots aborted takeoff and returned to the gate where the investigation began. Mechanics found a loosely connected pitot tube (which measures airspeed) and a piece of styrofoam-type material blocking the air data module.
Law enforcement were called in after American Airlines’ corporate security department contacted the FBI with a case of possible sabotage. Suspicion fell on Alani after surveillance video footage showed him accessing the hatch where the sabotage took place for seven minutes during the time the plane was on the ground in Miami.
Alani was interviewed by law enforcement on Thursday and allegedly admitted to causing the sabotage. The affidavit reads:
“Alani admitted that he accessed the ADM (air data module) in the target aircraft’s forward E&E compartment. He further admitted that he inserted a piece of foam into the ADM’s inlet where the line connects and that he applied super glue to the foam so as to prevent the foam from coming off.”
He then went on to tell investigators that he did it because “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 never intended to cause harm to either the aircraft or its passengers. He is due to appear in Miami Federal Court on Friday for a first appearance.
American Airlines says passengers were deplaned after the plane returned to the gate and later departed on a different aircraft. In an emailed statement, the airline continued:
“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.”
The Transport Workers Union says it is “shocked” by the allegations and has described them as “outrageous and indefensible”. The full statement from the union continued:
“The Transport Workers Union is shocked by the reported allegations of airplane sabotage by an employee. If these allegations of sabotage are true, they are outrageous and indefensible, and we fully condemn such actions. Our mechanics are highly trained professionals who are dedicated to performing at the highest standards in the industry – and we will not tolerate anything less.”