A former American Airlines mechanic has pleaded guilty to “attempted destruction of an aircraft” in a U.S. federal court. The mechanic, accused of trying to sabotage a passenger airplane, admitted to tampering with a critical flight-monitoring device on the airline’s Boeing 737 jet back in July 2019. The sabotage attempt was discovered after a flight carrying 150 people on board was aborted just before takeoff from Miami, avoiding a possible crash.

Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani pled guilty on December 18, 2019, in a federal court in Miami to a single count indictment, charging him with “attempted destruction of an aircraft”, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida disclosed in an official statement.

Alani admitted that he intentionally tampered with the air data module (ADM) system of an aircraft that was scheduled to depart from Miami International Airport (MIA) for Nassau, Bahamas, on July 17, 2019. The ADM system reports critical data such as airspeed, altitude and pitch of an aircraft.

According to court documents, prior to the aircraft’s scheduled take-off from Miami, Alani had “inserted a foam substance into the ADM system and used super glue to hold the substance in place”. His actions were captured on surveillance video and he was also identified by fellow workers.

Responding to the news, American Airlines told AeroTime: "We are grateful for the work of the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s office, and other officials in resolving this matter. American Airlines has fully cooperated throughout the investigation. After we learned about the allegations, we inspected aircraft that Mr. Alani had worked on to ensure that they were safe."

"His conduct is not representative of the world-class work performed every day by our 15,000 Technical Operations safety professionals. We are proud of them and the profession they represent. Safety is the foundation of everything we do, and we know our maintenance team takes that responsibility seriously every day."

Alani was arrested on September 5, on suspicion of attempting to sabotage the airplane. He was suspended without pay immediately and fired from American Airlines on September 7, 2019.

According to the criminal complaint viewed by The Miami Herald, Alani told federal investigators that “his intention was not to cause harm to the aircraft or its passengers", but that he was “upset” over the stalled contract negotiations between union workers and American Airlines.

Alani also said that the bitter dispute had affected him financially. He allegedly explained that he tampered with the aircraft’s ADM system hoping he would get overtime work on the plane.

On September 19, 2019, the mechanic was indicted for “willfully attempting to damage, destroy, disable and wreck a civil aircraft,” CNN reported at the time. No terror-related charges have been filed, although Alani did have extremist ties, prosecutors revealed. He entered a plea of “not guilty” on the following day, September 20, 2019.

As of today, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Alani is currently detained and is scheduled to be sentenced in March of 2020. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, if convicted.

The potentially fatal American Airlines flight

On July 17, 2019, American Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 (registration N861NN0) was scheduled to operate Flight 2834 from Miami, Florida, to Nassau, the Bahamas. The aircraft, carrying 150 people on board, was about to take the departure runway when takeoff was aborted, as the flight crew had received an error related to the ADM system while powering up the plane’s engines. Authorities say that if the flight had taken off as planned, the sabotage could have caused a crash.

According to American Airlines, the Boeing 737 returned to the gate at Miami International and passengers were accommodated on a replacement aircraft for the flight. Meanwhile, the 737 was taken out of service for inspections, during which, the sabotage attempt was discovered.

“At the time of the incident, the aircraft was taken out of service, maintenance was performed and after an inspection to ensure it was safe the aircraft was returned to service,” the airline explained in a statement to AeroTime back in September 2019. “American immediately notified federal law enforcement who took over the investigation with our full cooperation.”

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A bitter dispute between American Airlines and its mechanics unions has turned ugly. The company’s mechanic has been arrested on September 5, 2019, for allegedly attempting to sabotage a flight with 150 people on board before it was scheduled to take off from the airline’s Miami hub earlier this summer.