He broke the plane so he would get paid overtime to repair it.
Some people will go to extraordinary lengths to get overtime pay but very few go as far as Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani. The mechanic for American Airlines actually sabotaged a plane so he could get overtime hours in order to fix it. The airline was quick to assure the public that no passengers had ever been in danger. A warning system alerted the pilots to the tampering before take-off and all passengers were de-planed and the aircraft was taken out of service. They quickly realized that Alani, who was upset over stalled contract negotiations and lost pay, had been behind the sabotage and he was arrested.
Who is Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani? Read on for all the details.
1. Tampering with the plane
On July 17, 150 passengers were on a flight from Miami to Nassau, in the Bahamas, when their flight was abruptly halted before leaving the gate. During routine safety checks, the pilots found a problem with the air data module system when they powered up the plane, according to reporting from The New York Times. The pilots immediately grounded the aircraft and passengers were moved to another plane to complete their flights. No one was in any danger, according to the airline.
When crew checked the affected components, they discovered that a piece of foam had been inserted into the module to obstruct the system and a tube had been loosened. In a preivous flight that day, the aircraft had had no safety problems except a lightbulb that needed replacing. The affected portion of the plane systems monitor “speed, pitch, and other critical flight data,” as noted in court documents about the case.
2. Security video evidence
When law enforcement started to investigate who tampered with the plane, they found security video that showed Alani approaching the plane, despite the fact that he would not have had any reason to be near it. He was generally assigned to work on disabled aircraft, not planes that were in service that day. He was easily identified on video due to his distinctive gait — he has noticeable limp. Co-workers also verified his movements that day. According to his confession, he accessed the plane and “inserted a piece of foam into the ADM’s inlet where the line connects and that he applied super glue to the foam so as to prevent the foam from coming off.”
3. Mechanic since 1988
Alani has been a mechanic for American Airlines since 1988, according to The Heavy. He is a member of the TWU-IAM Association, the union that represents employees of the airline. The Miami Herald reports that Alani is from Iraq but has lived in the United States for decades. In his initial court appearance, he told the judge that he was making $7,000 to $8,000 a month working for American Airlines. He reportedly owns property in Sarasota and holds leases on two different cars.
4. Union negotiations are stalled
Despite having a robust income from his work, Alani was reportedly frustrated because union negotiations over new contracts for mechanics had stalled and he claimed the hold up has "affected him financially,” according to court documents. He decided to sabotage the plane in order to disable it so that he could get overtime pay for repairing it. He said he never intended for passengers to be harmed, he only tampered with the plane “in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work.”
The union responded to Alani's confession by saying “The TWU/IAM Association condemns, in the strongest possible terms, any conduct by any individual that jeopardizes the safe operation of an aircraft. Safety is the number one priority for our IAM and TWU members involved in the maintenance and operation of aircraft. These members are the most highly trained safety professionals in the airline industry. As a result, the US air transportation system is the safest in the world. Any conduct that jeopardizes that safety is not tolerated or condoned by the leadership or members of our organizations.”
5. Official statement from the airline
The day Alani was arrested, American Airlines put out a statement sharing their interpretation of the events. The assured passengers that the plane had never taken off and no one had been in danger and they had immediately involved law enforcement when they realized it was sabotage. The FBI was called to investigate the incident and Alani confessed and was arrested on September 5.
“On July 17, flight 2834 from Miami to Nassau, Bahamas, returned to the gate due to a maintenance issue. Passengers boarded a new aircraft which then re-departed for Nassau," the statement reads. "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. 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.”
The plane never took off, thanks to safety systems alerting pilots to the problem.
6. Up to 20 years in prison
Tampering with an aircraft is not a minor offense and Alani is in very serious trouble for what he did. The New York Times reports that he has been charged with willfully damaging, destroying or disabling an aircraft and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. U.S. Attorney Maria Medetis said her office will seek to detain Alani, who was appointed a federal public defender, according to the Miami Herald.
While the specter of airplane sabotage is terrifying to anyone who flies, this incident demonstrates that the safety checks that pilots and maintenance staff do on planes can be lifesaving. We should all take a moment to be happy about thorough safety checks next time we sit at the gate.