Tags: Pilot's | Job | Threatened | For | Restricting | Extra | Lavatory

Pilot's Job Threatened For Restricting Extra Lavatory

Friday, 31 May 2002 12:00 AM

Capt. Dale McCombs was in command of a Dallas to Las Vegas round trip flight May 16 when he announced over the public address system that the lavatory and galley area immediately behind the cockpit were restricted to uniformed members of the crew only.

"This is just a common sense thing, and it didn't inconvenience anyone because immediately aft of the first class is [another lavatory]," McCombs told CNSNews.com.

"There's no need for a person to walk through the galley, through a restricted visibility area, to a [lavatory] immediately outside the cockpit door when there's one just as convenient, or even more convenient really, to the rear of the first class section," he added.

American Airlines' configuration of the Boeing 757 places one lavatory and galley immediately outside the cockpit. There are five and one-half rows of first class seats between that location and the second lavatory available to first class passengers. (See diagram of cockpit)

McCombs says he has made the announcement restricting access to the area surrounding the cockpit door on all of his flights on the Boeing 757 since a passenger kicked in the cockpit door of a similar aircraft on a United Airlines flight from Miami to Argentina Feb 7.

A statement issued by United claimed that, in that incident, Pablo Moreira, a banker from Uruguay, was prevented from entering the cockpit "due to the reinforced cockpit door bar United has installed on all of its fleet."

But airline spokeswoman Chris Nardella acknowledged in a published report that a co-pilot actually stopped Moreira from entering the cockpit by striking him in the head with a crash ax.

Police in Buenos Aires arrested the 28-year-old when the plane landed, according to the FBI.

McCombs says he politely declared the area off limits to reduce the opportunity for someone to tamper with the cockpit door, or to threaten or assault a flight attendant in the vulnerable location.

"They'd be, basically, out of sight of 90 percent of the airplane," he explained, "and it could be all of the airplane if they went far enough into the galley area where no one could see them."

The greater irony, McCombs says, is not that someone complained about his restriction, but who complained.

"I have never received one complaint from a paying passenger. They seem to appreciate the added level of security," he explained. "In this case, two [American Airlines] managing directors - who still remain unnamed and unknown to me - brought pressure, apparently, to bear on the chief pilot."

McCombs alleges that American Chief Pilot Bob Kudwa, through one or more intermediaries, directed the assistant chief pilots of American's Dallas flight office to "aggressively counsel" him about the restriction.

"They stated, in their counseling, 'It's not worth your job,'" McCombs claims.

In addition to violating what he believes is common sense, McCombs says the threat against him also violates Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.

Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 121.533, section "d" states that the pilot of the aircraft is, "during flight time, in command of the aircraft and crew and is responsible for the safety of the passengers, crewmembers, cargo, and airplane."

Additionally, section "e" of that same regulation gives the pilot, "full control and authority in the operation of the aircraft, without limitation, over other crewmembers and their duties during flight time."

McCombs has filed a whistleblower complaint with the FAA. He says the threats against him are about more than just restricting access to a restroom. They are, he claims, an attempt to "de-claw" the legal authority of flight captains.

"There's a real resentment of the independence that pilots have from their absolute authority and control that's vested in the captain by virtue of their responsibility for the safety and security of the airplane, the passengers, and the crew," McCombs said. "Because of that, the company can't always dictate where you go and when you land.

"Instead you have to make safety decisions relative to weather, fuel, emergencies due to physical conditions of people that the airline would just as soon you ignored," he charged.

McCombs explained that non-pilot managers base their decisions on the potential for lost revenue to the airline, while captains are required to base their decisions on safety and security regardless of cost. He believes the airlines would like to eliminate as much pilot autonomy as possible, to improve their profitability.

As CNSNews.com previously reported, the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance (APSA) believes airlines and their lobbying group, the Air Transport Association, worked to persuade the new Transportation Security Administration (TSA) not to allow pilots to carry firearms for similar reasons.

John Hotard, spokesman for American Airlines, said McCombs' actions went beyond the new government-ordered security procedures implemented after Sept. 11.

"Following 9-11, a lot of security procedures that I cannot discuss were put into place aboard our aircraft, and our crews were all briefed on what these various measures are," he said.

"Nothing in those directives, nothing from the FAA, says that you have to restrict the first class [lavatory] to uniformed crewmembers only. So that is not part of the security policy," Hotard added.

Regarding McCombs reference to FAR 121.533, Hotard said, "Well, the FAA now has this case. So we'll see what the FAA says."

A spokesperson in the media department of the ATA, said the organization would have no one available to comment on the APSA accusations, and that their organization does not comment on personnel disputes between member airlines and airline employees.


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Capt. Dale McCombs was in command of a Dallas to Las Vegas round trip flight May 16 when he announced over the public address system that the lavatory and galley area immediately behind the cockpit were restricted to uniformed members of the crew only. This is just a...
Friday, 31 May 2002 12:00 AM
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