An American Airlines mechanic in Miami was charged Thursday with sabotaging the navigation system on a plane before a flight bound for Nassau in the Bahamas with 150 passengers aboard earlier this summer.
The criminal complaint filed in federal court in Miami said American Airlines mechanic Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani, who works at Miami International Airport, admitted to investigators that on July 17 he intentionally blocked a plane’s sensor that monitors speed, pitch and other critical data.
Alani was arrested Thursday, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Miami.
Crews discovered the problem before taking off and aborted the flight.
Alani later told investigators that he was upset with failed contract negotiations between American Airlines and maintenance workers that have been dragging on for more than four years, according to the federal complaint.
In the interview with law enforcement, Alani reportedly said the contract dispute “affected him financially.”
“Alani claimed that he tampered with the Target Aircraft in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work,” the court filing said.
He was charged with willfully damaging, destroying, disabling, or wrecking an aircraft, and attempting to do so, the complaint said.
Investigators said the alleged sabotage took place on American Airlines flight 2834 bound for the Bahamas with 150 crew and passengers aboard. While powering up to take off, the problem triggered an error message in the plane’s air data module system and takeoff was aborted.
A maintenance worker found that a tube connecting the air data module system had been blocked with a “dark styrofoam-like material.”
American Airlines security, along with air marshals and the FBI identified Alani based on video surveillance footage.
Later, the complaint said, Alani admitted that he glued the styrofoam to the tube so it wouldn’t come off and then went to the cockpit to make sure it interfered with the sensor system.
Passengers boarded a new plane and continued to the Bahamas.
“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,” said a statement from American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein. “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.”
American has been locked in a bitter and lengthy dispute with the unions representing 30,000 maintenance workers. The animosity came to a peak in May when American sued the unions and accused labor groups of orchestrating an illegal work slowdown that’s led to hundreds of cancellations and delays.
The Fort Worth-based airline won a permanent injunction against the Transport Workers Union and International Association of Machinists in federal court and is asking for damages that could amount to millions.