Sky Talk

Mechanics sue American alleging pressure to commit “maintenance fraud”


A local mechanics union has sued American Airlines, alleging the company has pressured mechanics to cut corners when it came to aircraft maintenance.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in federal court in Illinois, says the Fort Worth-based carrier has “compromised public safety” and mechanics have been threatened with termination when they have notified the Federal Aviation Administration about possible maintenance problems.

“AA-employed [mechanics] have been subject to increasing pressure to engage in unlawful and even fraudulent maintenance practices in order to keep AA aircraft in revenue service,” the lawsuit says. It asks the court for a jury trial, an injunction against American and punitive damages.

For example, supervisors have told mechanics not to perform lightning strike inspections even if they find lightning strike damage. Mechanics are only allowed to inspect it if they saw the aircraft struck by lightning, the suit says.

“Throughout 2014, we have experienced an ugly corporate culture that seems to emphasize pushing planes back into revenue service over all other considerations,” TWU Local 591 president Gary Peterson said in a message to members this week. “Local 591 officers trying to support our members’ efforts to express their safety concerns have been subjected to surveillance and threatened with arrest and termination.”

The suit says that the FAA is currently investigating 21 complaints made by mechanics, who have said the company has pressured them to disregard federal directives on aircraft maintenance.

American spokesman Casey Norton said American is constantly working with the FAA on its maintenance program and procedures and the agency has not alerted the carrier to any current issues.

“We have the highest regard for, and a robust working relationship with, the Federal Aviation Administration. We continually and consistently work with our regulators so that American’s maintenance programs, practices, procedures, and overall compliance and safety are second to none. Our communication with the FAA is ongoing and frequent, and their oversight team has not alerted us to any current critical issues or concerns. As has been, and will always be, the case, we welcome any feedback from the FAA that supports American’s unwavering attention and commitment to maintenance and technical operations excellence,” Norton said in a statement.

American’s mechanics are currently represented by the Transport Workers Union. However, with the carrier’s merger with US Airways, federal regulators have not yet determined which union will represent the mechanics at both airlines.

The TWU and the International Association of Machinists, who represent US Airways mechanics, jointly filed for single-carrier status with the National Mediation Board in late July. At the time, Peterson argued that an alliance would keep the mechanics in two different work groups and instead a representation election should be held which could allow other unions, including the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, to be on the ballot. AMFA has previously tried to oust the TWU as the union representative for mechanics at American.

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