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Airline Professionals Association Files Lawsuit Over Captain Firing At ABX Air
By Mike Mitchell

July 31, 2012 – On Monday, the Airline Professionals Association filed a lawsuit against ABX Air over a captain's termination for exercising his FAA mandated authority to ensure safe flight operations and his refusal to operate the aircraft in a manner that was prohibited by FAA approved aircraft procedures. 

The lawsuit stems from an incident in June, in which an ABX Air captain operating in Japan requested changes to a flight plan after identifying safety concerns.

The captain was terminated last week following his refusal to sign a coerced statement that would have required him to acknowledge that his reasons for questioning the flight's safety were invalid and that he had unreasonably used his captain's authority.

The pilot, who has more than 25 years of experience as a captain, would have completed his 28th year with ABX Air in November. He has no previous history of discipline at ABX Air. ABX Air, formerly Airborne Express, is a cargo airline headquartered at Wilmington Air Park Clinton County, Ohio. ABX Air operates scheduled, ad hoc charter and ACMI freight services. It also provides flight support services and training. ABX Air is owned by Air Transport Services Group. ABX Air's main customer is DHL, and the vast majority of the freight it carries is for that company. Most of ABX Air's aircraft are painted with DHL's yellow and red livery. 

"The union stands by the captain and his flight crew involved in this incident," said Captain Daniel Wells, president of APA Teamsters Local 1224. "Under FAA regulations the captain of an aircraft has the final authority as to the safe operation of a flight. There is good reason and wisdom for this mandate. When operating a highly-complex, multi-million dollar machine in the dynamic real-world environment, a captain is required to make rapid decisions based on the regulations, his experience, procedures, and the immediate situation at hand to complete a flight safely. 

“The safety of the aviation system is a testament to the ability and professionalism of the many airmen who operate our nation's aircraft and make these decisions every time they fly, many times against a management who would otherwise put economics before safety. To impede a captain's authority to evaluate or even question the safety of a flight undermines the safety protocols upon which the aviation system is built." 



The complaint filed last week argues that discharging a captain for reasonably exercising his authority has a "chilling effect" on a pilot's ability to make decisions concerning the safe operation of his aircraft.  It is clear this is what ABX intended.  To make sure this effect was felt by all its captains, ABX took the extraordinary step of publicly announcing this captain's firing, and why, to every flight crew member it employs, even before the pilot himself was officially notified. To a larger extent, that effect ripples throughout the industry impacting aviation safety at a national level. The Teamsters are seeking the reinstatement of the captain's employment, as well as future protections for similarly situated flight crews who are authorized to make judgment calls pertaining to a flight's safety, or lack thereof. 

"The Teamsters will use all of our resources to defend and preserve a captain's authority," Teamsters Airline Division Director David Bourne commented. "Within the aviation industry, the captain's authority is the keystone of safe and secure flight operations." The complaint was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Western Division by the Dayton, Ohio law firm Doll, Jansen, Ford & Rakay. As noted in the filing, the law governing air commerce assigns the highest priority to safety, and entrusts the pilot in command with the final authority and responsibility for ensuring safe operations. 

A combination of several variables in the operating environment led to safety concerns cited by the flight crew, including the assignment of an alternate airport not listed in the aircraft's onboard computer database requiring the flight crew to manually calculate an approach, a lack of preparation time, marginal weather, and an inoperable fuel quantity indicator. The union maintains that the captain acted responsibly with the information he had at hand. ABX Air's Flight Operations Manual, as approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), provides that in compliance with Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs) and company regulations, a captain is responsible for and is the final authority for the aircraft's operation.

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