A long-time mechanic for American Airlines, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani faces federal charges after being accused of sabotaging a plane before a flight that was scheduled in July.
Flight 2834 was set to depart from Miami, FL on July 17 to Nassau, Bahamas with 150 passengers on board the airplane, but the flight was cancelled after an error message alerted pilots that something was wrong with the engine.
Alani told law enforcement officials that he placed foam into an inlet within the air data module of the plane in order to commit his act of sabotage, according to court documents. The air data module measures crucial information about the plane including its speed and its pitch.
“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,” American Airlines spokeswoman Leslie Scott said.
After American became aware of the malfunction, they cancelled the plane’s take-off before having it inspected shortly afterward. Another mechanic found out that the problem was a loose pitot tube during the inspection. The tube was blocked by the foam, causing a malfunction of the aircraft data module.
Scott says they “immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation with our full cooperation” once they realized that it was a case of sabotage.
According to the affidavit, Alani contends that his act of sabotage was not an act of terrorism. He claims that he was disgruntled after a contract “dispute had affected him financially.” Alani added that “his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers” but rather to “cause a delay or have the flight cancelled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.”
American has been in an intense labor dispute with their mechanics, and the company has accused the union representing the mechanics of coordinating a campaign of industrial sabotage to delay planes as a ploy to gain additional leverage in negotiations. The union strongly disputes this allegation.
“From a union standpoint we wouldn’t condone even the thought of doing this,” said Gary Peterson, who works as a vice president for the Transport Workers Union.
Nevertheless, American claims that the Union’s behavior has caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled and many more to be delayed. It is unclear if Alani was caught contributing to this phenomenon or if more sinister motivations were at hand in his alleged sabotage of the plane.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, Alani is charged with “willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft,” and his first appearance in federal court is scheduled for today. His photograph and information about his country of origin have not been released to the public yet.
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