Department Of Labor Orders Pilot Reinstated After Whistleblower Investigation


The U.S. Department of Labor has ordered Louisiana-based Metro Aviation to reinstate one of its former pilots following a federal whistleblower investigation. According to the department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the helicopter ambulance services provider retaliated against the pilot by forcing them to “resign, retire or be involuntarily separated from the company” after the individual reportedly refused to fly twice in 2021 due to concerns about limited visibility. OSHA found that the company’s actions violated the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR21), which “protects employees who refuse to perform work assignments when they reasonably believe these assignments would cause them to violate aviation safety regulations.”

“Employees must freely exercise their legal rights regarding workplace safety with no fear of retaliation by their employer,” said OSHA regional administrator Jennifer Rous. “The outcome of this investigation and the action on the pilot’s behalf underscores the department’s commitment to protecting workers’ rights.”

Metro Aviation was also ordered to pay the pilot, who was not named as per Department of Labor policy, more than $171,000 in back wages and $17,000 in other damages. The department noted that both the company and the former employee can file objections or request a hearing on the case within 30 days of receiving the order. Metro Aviation has stated that it is seeking judicial review of the decision, emphasizing that the FAA conducted a separate investigation and found “no substantiated violation by Metro Aviation of any FAA regulation or standard.”

“The FAA investigation included reviewing Metro’s policies and procedures along with pilot interviews and found that we are operating safely in compliance with all applicable FAA regulations and standards,” the company said in a statement. “Though we cannot speak at this time about this particular former employee’s pending complaint, we respectfully disagree with OSHA’s administrative determination and intend to seek a hearing before an administrative law judge who will consider all relevant evidence, including the FAA’s determination that a violation of an FAA regulation or standard by Metro Aviation had not been substantiated.”

Kate O'Connor
Kate O’Connor works as AVweb's Editor-in-Chief. She is a private pilot, certificated aircraft dispatcher, and graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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  1. “The FAA investigation included reviewing Metro’s policies and procedures along with pilot interviews and found that we are operating safely in compliance with all applicable FAA regulations and standards,”

    And I’m sure there was zero pressure on anyone to tell the FAA that they always follow their written procedures, even if that may be contrary to how they actually operate. No hint of a threat of another involuntary termination if they didn’t toe the line.

    • I agree. Many companies put undue pressure on their pilots. During the hiring interview they want you to be the most Pro-Regulation out there but then once you’re hired and flying making them money, they want you to be Pro-Company and bend or break the Regulations. I heard when a boss sitting safely in an air conditioned office in Shreveport pressured the lead mechanic to do something he didn’t want to do but ended up doing it anyway then about an hour later the helicopter blew up one of the engines in flight. I also have emails where they pressured a pilot to continuously take off in the dead of winter with cold engines (& below green lines) against the FAA approved flight manual and checklists only to save 30 seconds, just to please their medical crews.

      Other companies do the same but are smarter and make us sign NDAs before they end up giving us lots of money to keep quiet. That’s why I can’t mention the name of that other one but I had a lead pilot telling me point blank to break the Regulations (which I didn’t do) and then the area manager and lead pilot exchanging emails about getting rid of me. They finally fired me but thank you OSHA for the tons of money I got later.

      Whistleblowers are needed to keep these companies from killing us. Be pro-safety in real time, not in pretty company posters and safety slogans. I’m glad OSHA works most of the time.

  2. Company blah-blah?

    At least the wronged pilot can have a clean employment record now?

    Air ambulance accident rate is noteable due crew desire to press on.

    Civil suit may be appropriate now, but gummint makes legal system expensive and slow, and flawed by poor judges and shysters.

  3. So, I obtained my ATP simply because 1) I had accrue enough hours at the time and 2) it is the PhD of flying, and I wanted to be the best that I could be.

    I never wanted to be an “Airline Pilot,” because, among other things. I knew that I would be fired for refusing to fly when I considered the situation unsafe. (Weather or equipment.) Especially since everyone else would fly or violate rules in those situations and would, 99.9% of the time, complete the flight, making money for the company.

    • Interesting view Era P.
      In my Airline experience, never have I been exposed to refusal of a flight as a F/O or Capt.
      If the company (dispatch) decided that there might be a problem of some kind, they would cancel the flight.
      Maybe another reader can opine on this subject. (Airline related)

      • In some places there will be pressure.

        To keep his operating certificate Buffalo Joe had to stay out of the hanger, because any simple suggestion from him about the work there could influence technicians. Airline’s safety record had been ‘variable’. (He was allowed to keep piloting DC-3 morning service from Fort Simpson to HQ in Yellowknife.)

    • In over 30 years of airline flying I have never been pressured to fly “when I considered the situation to be unsafe.” And I have never seen a pilot group where “everyone else would fly or violate rules in those situations” and complete the flight, making money for the company. I have on rare occasions had to disagree with another department’s (ie dispatch or maintenance) interpretation of a FAA rule, but I was never threatened with termination for standing my ground. For the most part professionals act professionally, and treat their profession, their jobs, their co-workers, and their employers with respect.

      • I’m glad it all worked out for you. (And I’ll assume here that your standards for what constitutes an unsafe situation is the same as mine. But it could be that I am more conservative than you are and would have refused more flights. (Especially as I grew older.))

        But just because YOU weren’t pressured doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. It does. As the story above shows.

        We don’t usually hear about those who didn’t succumb because it takes a Herculean effort, a lot of time and money to challenge. And even if they’re right, everything to go right to win a claim. It’s not easy. I expect that 99% of people just walk away and find another job.

        But to your point about professionals acting professionally:

        I’ve heard first hand reports of surgical nurses being pressured, under threat of termination, into assisting in operations that they consider murder of a baby. I’ve heard first hand reports of lawyers being pressured by judges.

        There’s a famous story about how President LBJ pressured (physically attacked) a Fed Chairman.

        And of course, most recently, people of all sorts have been pressured into taking an injection that they thought unsafe or immoral. Especially our military. (Some are winning lawsuits. But most are not.)

        So you might not have felt the pressure that these professionals did. But the pressure exists.

        • Oh, and I forgot the pressure on a Boeing guy to green light the software for the 737-Max.

  4. I recall more than one instance where I refused to fly fire patrols for the Forest Service in the PNW on the heels of T-storms that dumped lotsa rain and some hail. Storms left low clouds and poor visibility in low IMC in their wake. Most of the FS ‘observers’ deferred to my judgment. [An ‘observer’ was a non-pilot who would do fire spotting, assess the fire when we found one, and make a report to fire dispatchers] However, one FS ‘observer’ was particularly anxious to be in the mountains when conditions changed AT THE AIRPORT! from low IMC to just IMC. Surrounding mountains were steep, heavily forested, and loomed several thousand feet above the airport. The mountainous terrain offered no landing sites for our fixed wing aircraft. Sitting on the ground for just an hour or two after the T-storms passed always brought VMC to the airport and the surrounding terrain. That guy later boasted he’d had “two aircraft crash” with him aboard, and implied anyone who didn’t challenge the weather wasn’t a ‘real pilot’. It was obvious those two pilots abdicated PIC responsibilities to him… In the face of my refusal to fly in unsafe conditions he bumped the decision up two levels. And I’m happy to say that official agreed with my decision. It wouldn’t have mattered to me if he too had said “fly”. I was PIC and the current weather was lethal. I had no desire to contribute three strikes to his crashed airplane history.

  5. “Services provider retaliated against the pilot by forcing them to “resign, retire or be involuntarily separated from the company.” Them instead of him OR her? It might be a good career move for this pilot to move to another company.

    • Not sure what you’re getting at with “them instead of him or her”, but regardless, I wouldn’t want to continue working at a company that fired me because I made a PIC decision and stuck with it. But I would want them to be forced to give me backpay that I was owed.

    • Hi Richard, “they/them” has been in use as a gender-nonspecific singular pronoun since at least the 1300s, although the idea that it was wrong to use “they” as a singular emerged during the 1800s, but it never stopped (in usages like “if you see anyone coming to the door, tell them to come in” rather than “tell him or her to come in”).
      Really useful, rather than using the awkward “him or her”.

  6. His type of pressure is what was believed to be a factor in the fight 592 crash of Value Jet. Pilots were pressured to fly broken airplanes… because they didn’t have replacement planes when equipment was broken… and they didn’t get paid unless they flew.
    The airline was shut down, then sold.

  7. Quoting: “…. retaliated against the pilot by forcing them to “resign…”

    What kind of grammar is that? It’s a “pilot”, ONE pilot, and HE’S being referred to as a “THEM”?? When I studied English grammar in grade school, I was taught that “them” is plural, not ONE individual. What’s happened to our language? Has creeping wokism infected aviation now?

  8. Lacking an edit option, one correction to my previous:

    Delete the word “HE’S”, since gender is not offered, but still only ONE individual in question.
    “he/she” would suffice; “them” is just wrong.