The Northern Illinois Flight Center violated the whistleblower protection provisions of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century, known as AIR21, after it illegally terminating an employee, which was found following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Northern Illinois Flight Center terminated the employee, a pilot from Illinois, after he reported violations of the pilot certification process to the Federal Aviation Administration, and it now must immediately reinstate the employee and pay more than $500,000 in back wages, benefits and damages.
"Firing pilots for reporting inaccurate procedures to the FAA endangers other pilots, their passengers and the public at large," says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. "The Labor Department has a responsibility to protect all employees, including those in the aviation industry, from retaliation for raising safety concerns and exercising these basic worker rights."
According to the pilot, Northern Illinois Flight Center asked him to falsify an FAA Form 61.55 pilot certification for a training flight he performed with another pilot; however, he did not meet all required elements during a training flight in February 2009. Thus, the pilot could not certify the form. The pilot also reports that in March 2009 Northern Illinois Flight Center supervisors tried to pressure him into signing a backdated and incorrect form. In a later conversation, the pilot told his supervisors that he wanted to reach out to the FAA to receive clarification on the issue, and he did so that month. Northern Illinois Flight Center fired the pilot in April 2009 with no reason listed.
OSHA's Chicago office conducted the investigation and determined that if the pilot had not requested to meet with the FAA to address the pilot certification process and forms, he would not have been let go. Under AIR21, employees are protected when they report alleged violations of any order, regulation or standard of the FAA or any other provision of federal law in relation to air carrier safety under this subtitle or any other law of the United States. This provision also shields those who engage in other protected activities.