A 60-year-old flight mechanic from Tracy, California, was today found guilty of attempted destruction of an American Airlines aircraft at the Miami International Airport in July. The plane heading to the Bahamas from Miami with 150 passengers was forced to abort take-off due to technical errors resulting from Alani's action.
Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was arrested on September 5, 2019, in Miami, and was charged with trying to damage or incapacitate an aircraft. It is believed that Alani's actions were triggered by the deadlock between American Airlines and the union workers.
Who is Alani and how did he sabotage the plane?
Alani is originally from Iraq and became a naturalized US Citizen in 1992. He had been working for American Airlines since 1988 and simultaneously held employment with Alaska Airlines. However, he was fired in 2008 by Alaska Airlines for various errors and negligence. He sued the airline unsuccessfully citing discrimination based on his origin.
Having access to the backside of the Miami International Airport terminal, he drove up to the Boeing 737 in question on July 17. Two hours before the scheduled take off, Alani sabotaged the air data module (ADM) of the plane. He placed a foam substance, Styrofoam, within the ADM system, which he kept in place using superglue. The ADM is an integral component of the navigation system which reports pitch aircraft speed, and other vital data. In other words, the pilots would be unable to gauge how high or fast they are flying without assistance from the ADM.
Alani's action certainly did have the intended outcome. In preparation to achieve take off, the pilots increased the power to the plane's engines. However, the computer related to the ADM system returned incorrect readings due to the blockage. This prompted the take-off to be aborted.
Arrest and conviction
The Airlines' security team brought the suspected sabotage to the FBI's attention on July 19 after surveillance footage showed Alani tampering with the plane. Also, what raised suspicion was that he usually worked in a hangar meant for disabled aircraft and his presence around an active one was unusual.
In August, FBI officials interviewed Alani's co-workers and established his identity and his routine on July 17. A month later, he was picked up by the FBI and on questioning, he admitted to tampering with the navigation unit of the plane.
A possible connection to the terrorist organization, ISIS was also deliberated upon. Alani is currently detained and his sentencing is set for March 2020. He could receive a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years imprisonment.
Not the first time a technician has posed a threat to an airline
While Alani's actions have raised concerns about internal threats for airlines, he is not the first. In 2013, a 58-year-old avionics technician, Terry Lee Loewen was arrested after attempting to bomb an entire airport in Wichita, Kansas, as he wanted to carry out Jihad for Al-Qaeda.
In 2018, Eugene Harvey, 38, a former baggage handler for Delta Airlines at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, was arrested and convicted for smuggling firearms aboard planes in order to traffic them from Georgia to New York in 2014.