American Airlines has sent an open letter to its 130,000 staff in response to the arrest of a mechanic charged with wilfully damaging one of the carrier’s planes in a deliberate act of sabotage. The incredibly serious incident took place in July when Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani is alleged to have superglued a piece of styrofoam into the air data module of a Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
Luckily, the pilots of flight AA2834 bound for Nassau in the Bahamas discovered something was wrong when a warning light lit up the flight deck as they were taxiing to the runway. The plane returned to the gate and all 150 passengers and crew were safely deplaned without harm.
An investigation began almost immediately when engineers discovered the damage. American Airlines’ corporate security department quickly called in the FBI when they discovered surveillance footage of Alani accessing the compartment where the air data module is located.
Alani has allegedly confessed to deliberately sabotaging the plane because he was unhappy with stalled contract negotiations between American Airlines and the Transport Workers Unions (TWU) which represents mechanics at the airline. He claims that he never intended to cause any harm, presumably because he knew the pilots would see an error message before departure.
In the internal letter sent this afternoon, David Seymour, American’s Senior Vice President of Integrated Operations, attempts to answer important questions about whether it’s still safe to fly with the airline – especially considering that contract negotiations are still ongoing with the mechanics union.
The full letter reads:
Dear fellow team members,
At American, safety is the foundation that supports everything we do. It is what our airline is built on. We are entrusted to care for our customers and each other, and we know all of you take that responsibility seriously every time you come to work.
Recent news reports of an extremely serious incident that occurred over the summer are disturbing and disappointing to all of us. The allegations involve one individual who compromised the safety of one of our aircraft. Fortunately, with appropriate safety protocols and processes, this individual’s actions were discovered and mitigated before our aircraft flew. We have been cooperating with authorities in this matter and will continue to do so.
Since the time of this incident, we are in a different place. We are seeing some operational improvements with fewer aircraft out of service at the start of the day. And, importantly, we have promising developments on the negotiations front and are scheduled to resume that work with the National Mediation Board (NMB) on Sept. 16. Next to a shared accountability for the safety of our aircraft and an unwavering respect for the tech ops profession, we and the Association remain committed to reaching a joint agreement for one contract for our entire Tech Ops team.
We maintain full trust and confidence in our team members and the intentional design of our rigorous safety policies and procedures. And, we continually work with governmental authorities and other subject matter experts to review pertinent security protocols and determine where there may be opportunities to make enhancements.
American is home to more than 15,000 Tech Ops professionals, which is more than any other airline in the world. They are outstanding safety professionals, and we are extremely appreciative and proud of them and the profession they represent. We consider them to be the best in the business, and it is important to not let this incident change that view.
Thank you for all you do at American to ensure safe operations for our 130,000 team members and safe travel for our hundreds of millions of customers.
Last month, American Airlines obtained a permanent injunction against the TWU in response to allegations that the union was orchestrating a deliberate work slowdown. The number of maintenance-related delays had skyrocketed in recent months in what had become an increasingly bitter dispute.
Earlier this year, the president of the TWU threatened the “bloodiest, ugliest battle that the United States labor movement has ever seen” in comments to a senior American Airlines executive over its refusal to meet their demands.
In recent weeks, the union has taken a much more conciliatory approach, fully complying with the injunction and organising new talks with the airline. Since news of Alani’s arrest emerged, the union has said it is “shocked” by the allegations and that it “fully condemns such actions.”