An American Airlines employee has been arrested after reportedly disabling an aircraft’s navigation equipment.
According to information obtained by The New York Times, authorities said an American Airlines (AA) mechanic arrested on Thursday last week for sabotaging the navigation equipment on a flight from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, did so because he was upset about an “impasse” over a union contract.
The mechanic’s action forced the grounding of Flight 2834, on 17 July, which was reportedly carrying some 150 people, after crew on board received an error message and aborted take-off, the news outlet reported.
He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of his charge of willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft.
Security camera footage reportedly showed the mechanic had gained access to the compartment housing the Boeing 737-800’s air data module system, where he inserted a “piece of foam” to obstruct the equipment.
According to a criminal complaint, the mechanic said “his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers” and he explained to law enforcement that he was “upset at the stalled contract dispute between the union workers and American Airlines”, which affected him financially.
It was also revealed the mechanic had tampered with the aircraft’s equipment in order to “cause a delay” or “have the flight cancelled” in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.
Adding to the problem with the navigation equipment, a pitot tube – used to determine airspeed, a measurement vital to controlling the plane – was also found to be loose, authorities said.
American Airlines told Travel Weekly the airline immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation “with our full cooperation”.
“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,” a spokesperson for the airline said.
“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.”
Passengers boarded a new aircraft which then re-departed for Nassau.
In a letter to American Airlines team members, David Seymour, senior vice president of integrated operations, said 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,” he said, adding the airline
Seymour added AA is home to more than 15,000 tech ops professionals – more than any other airline in the world – and that the airline is “committed to reaching a joint agreement for one contract” for its “entire tech ops team”.
His comments came two days after the TWU-IAM Association, which represents some 30,000 of American Airlines’ pilots, announced mediation talks between the airline and the union over contracts would resume. The union’s announcement came a day before the mechanic’s arrest.