Wednesday, March 31, 2010

ALPA and Airline Pilot Caught in a Whopper


At first glance you might think the stories I filed in Thursday's New York Post and Dallas Morning News are an April Fool's joke, but alas for everyone concerned, what reads like fiction in the newspaper is actually, painfully true. The article profiling American Eagle pilot Timothy Martins in this month's issue of Air Line Pilot magazine by contrast, is not.



In the union's attempt to win back the respect of the flying public, after several high profile events in which pilots performed at less-than-their-best, it began publishing a monthly profile of a pilot nominated for his or her demonstration of the ALPA code of ethics. In episode two, Jan Steenblik, the technical editor of the magazine, has written what can generously be described as the lightest of puff pieces on American Eagle first officer Martins.

The thousand word article is headlined, "Mature Beyond His Years" and discusses Martins' off-hours activities - flying F-16s for the New Jersey National Guard 177th Fighter Wing, firefighting with the New York Fire Department and volunteering at the food pantry in his hometown of Nesconset, N.Y.

I can't speak to the food pantry, but in conversations on Wednesday with the National Guard and the NYFD I was told, "never heard of the guy."

Martins, 24, did attend Dowling College School of Aviation in Long Island, N.Y, but not in 2001 at the age of 16, as reported in the magazine, but 4 years later and he did not graduate.

Whether Martins was misquoted by the author, the victim of some macabre hoax, or engaging in what he thought was harmless disingenuousness with Steenblik, I can't say. Martins did not reply to my email or phone message. But across the vastness of cyberspace and inside the offices of ALPA headquarters, there's a lot of scratching of heads going on.

Oh wait, let me add Dallas to that list. I have been told by folks in the know, that in Dallas, where American Eagle has its corporate office, Martins has been grounded for the time being.

The airline's spokeswoman, Andrea Huguely, won't confirm that, of course, citing employee confidentiality. She told me that Martins has all the required F.A.A. certificates to legally carry fare paying passengers on a part 121 airline.

But this evening in a conversation with Jim Hall, the former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board wondered whether having the right F.A.A. tickets was enough.

“Anyone who is charged with a responsibility for transporting the lives of other people safely who is evidently intentionally fabricating or embellishing credentials or falsifying stories, that’s obviously a terrible problem that should be of concern to the airline.”

There's plenty more to ruminate about in this bizarre tale, but I think I'll wait until the first stories run and see what new revelations they prompt.
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