A previously low-profile labor dispute between American Airlines mechanics and the airlines was thrust into the spotlight on Friday following reports that one of the airline’s mechanics deliberately sabotaged a flight – allegedly in an attempt to force the airline to pay out more overtime, CNBC reports.
The incident, which amounts to a federal offense that could be tantamount to terrorism, occurred back in July. The mechanic deliberately inserted a piece of foam into the plane’s air data module, a sensor that measures the plane’s pitch, speed and other information, according to the affidavit.
The mechanic, Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, is set to appear in court on Friday, the US Attorney’s Office in Miami said. He told investigators that he decided to sabotage the flight because the ongoing labor dispute had “affected him financially.”
Notably, Alani’s decision to tamper with the plane’s sensors comes at a particularly sensitive time for the industry. Faulty sensors were blamed for contributing to the two deadly crashes of Boeing 737 MAX 8s that forced the global grounding of the planes.
According to Alani, “his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers” but to “cause a delay or have the flight cancelled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work,” per the affidavit.
AA Flight 2834 was about to depart for Nassau, Bahamas on July 17. 150 people were on board. Suddenly, an error message appeared on the plane’s monitors after the engines had been started up. The crew decided to abort takeoff and returned to the gate.
The plane was taken out of service for maintenance. Passengers deplaned and boarded a different aircraft for the flight.
During an inspection, one of Alani’s fellow mechanics noticed certain irregularities, and notified management, who reported the issue to federal law enforcement. Specifically, the mechanic found a loose pitot tube, a critical component that connects to the plane’s data module. He soon discovered that the system had been obstructed, which was suspicious.
According to CNBC, AA characterized this as an unprecedented escalation in a labor dispute that has seen mechanics routinely engage in conduct intended to slow or stop the return of aircraft to service. These small-scale sabotage attempts have led to the cancellation or delay of hundreds of flights.
The union said it couldn’t condone Alani’s behavior.
“From a union standpoint we wouldn’t condone even the thought of doing this,” said Gary Peterson, a vice president at the Transport Workers Union, which represents American’s mechanics.