No Unemployment Pay For Gear-Up Copilot

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Is a copilot who failed to catch the fact that the captain forgot to lower the landing gear deserving of unemployment benefits? One Iowa judge said yes, but the state's Employment Appeal Board said no. Donald G. Scarsella "knew what to do, was trained on what to do, was able to do it, was required by policy and safety to do it every time, and still did not do it," the Board ruled last week, according to the Des Moines Register. On Feb. 14, Scarsella, 49, was the second in command of a SeaPort Airlines Pilatus PC-12 on a flight from Kansas City, Missouri to Salina, Kansas. The crew did not extend the gear prior to landing and the airplane slid to a stop. No one was injured—which is typical of inadvertent gear-up landings in civilian airplanes. However, the Appeal Board's opinion was that "This is more than merely making some mistakes." 

It was claimed that the incident (a gear-up landing is generally not considered an accident under the definition of an accident in the National Transportation Safety Board Regulations, 49 CFR 830) cost Scarsella's employer $1.2 million. There were no passengers aboard. Both pilots were immediately fired by SeaPort Airlines. Scarsella filed for unemployment benefits with the Iowa Workforce Development. A fact-finder at the agency initially awarded him benefits, but SeaPort challenged that decision, which led to a formal hearing in June. Administrative Law Judge Susan Ackerman heard testimony in the case and ultimately ruled in Scarsella's favor, noting that a single act of negligence is not enough to disqualify a person from receiving unemployment benefits unless there is a deliberate disregard for the employer's interests. On appeal, the three-member Employment Appeal Board of Iowa reversed the finding, ruling two to one in favor of the airline.