Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani glued a hard foam substance inside a tube connecting the plane’s air data module, which computes crucial data about the aircraft’s speed, angle, and other metrics, with an outside sensor in order to get the flight grounded and secure overtime pay for himself, according to charges filed against him after his arrest for “willfully damaging, destroying, or disabling an aircraft” on Thursday.
Fortunately for the 150 passengers on board the July 17 flight to Nassau, Bahamas, when the pilots started up the plane, the sabotaged instrument displayed an error message, and the takeoff was aborted. The plane was taken out of service for maintenance, and the foam-filled tube was discovered by another mechanic.
Alani insisted he was not trying to harm the aircraft or its passengers – he had only messed with the module “in order to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work,” according to the arrest affidavit. The disgruntled mechanic was “upset” over contract negotiations between American Airlines and the mechanics’ union, a struggle that has lasted for years and which he said “affected him financially.”
Federal air marshals were able to identify the mechanic from his limping walk on surveillance footage, which showed him accessing a compartment on the aircraft where the navigational system was located and fiddling around with it for about seven minutes. If convicted of the sabotage, Alani faces 20 years in prison.
But according to American Airlines, Alani isn’t the only employee breaking the law. The airline sued his 30,000-strong union in May, accusing them of organizing an illegal work slowdown, and the court ruled in favor of the company. The union, which had vowed to wage a “bloody” battle over the summer, was slightly mollified, encouraging employees to heed the court’s ruling, but continued to deny there had been an organized slowdown and announced on Wednesday that it would resume negotiations with American later this month.