An American Airlines mechanic based at Miami International Airport was arrested last week Thursday on a charge that he sabotaged the navigation equipment of a flight carrying 150 people, forcing it to be grounded just before takeoff, the authorities said.
Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani appeared in federal court in Miami on Friday on a charge of willfully damaging or disabling a plane. Federal investigators say he admitted to tampering with a part that provides vital flight information to pilots.
The pilots aborted the July 17 flight before takeoff in Miami. Alani, 60, was arrested Thursday. He had worked for American since 1988 but was suspended after his arrest.
Court records from a lawsuit in California indicate that for some years, Alani worked both for American and Alaska Airlines until Alaska fired him in 2008 after several errors including failing to verify that repairs were working and installing the wrong battery on a plane. The Federal Aviation Administration suspended his mechanic’s certificate for 30 days, according to court documents.
Alani, who was born in Iraq and became a U.S. citizen in 1992, sued Alaska Airlines for discrimination based on national origin. A judge dismissed the lawsuit for lack of evidence.
In Miami on Friday, Alani wore shackles and tan jail clothes as he spoke to Magistrate Judge John O’Sullivan through an Arabic interpreter. Mostly, he answered basic questions about his assets and whether he could afford a lawyer. The judge appointed a public defender and scheduled a bond hearing for next Wednesday and an arraignment hearing on Sept. 20.
According to American Airline sources, Alani is proficient in English.
Nothing in the criminal complaint against Alani suggests any link to terrorism, and prosecutors did not indicate that any such charges are pending.
When interviewed Thursday by investigators, “Alani stated that his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers,” according to the affidavit by Jose A. Ruiz, a federal air marshal who serves on an FBI terrorism task force.
Alani explained that stalled contract negotiations between American Airlines and the mechanics’ unions were hurting him financially — he said in court that he has two cars but few other assets besides property in the Sarasota, Florida, area worth about $5,500.
Alani said he tampered with the plane “to cause a delay or have the flight canceled in anticipation of obtaining overtime work,” Ruiz wrote.
The incident occurred before an American Airlines Boeing 737 was scheduled to fly from Miami to Nassau in the Bahamas with 150 people on board. As the pilots powered up the plane at Miami International Airport, they saw an error message for a system that tracks speed, nose direction and other critical flight information and aborted the takeoff.
When mechanics examined the plane, they found a piece of foam glued inside a navigation system part called an air data module. Video from an American Airlines surveillance camera captured a person who drove up to the plane, got out and spent seven minutes working around the compartment under the cockpit that contains the navigation system, according to the affidavit.