American’s Safety Culture may not be working in Chicago

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Caught On Video: American Airlines Supervisor’s Profanity-Laced Tirade After Mechanic Writes Up Safety Issue

AA policy manuals and other documents filled with endorsement of SMS and Safety Culture

Video not consistent with an AA Value of trust

Supervisor suspended, but should process protect trust?

The savant of Sesame Street, Ernie, taught a generation of fans to distinguish between and among object with an instructive song “One of these things is not like the other”. That ditty would appear to differentiate between American Airlines policies and the language used by an AA hangar maintenance supervisor in talking to one of his AMTs.

The airline’s CEO has published several statements about his and the company’s commitment to Safety Management Systems and Safety Culture. As witnessed by this policy statement:

The importance of this position is emphasized by these quotes from American’s Standards of Business Practices :

That commitment is founded on a value system we all share, one based on integrity, honesty and the absolute dedication that every decision we make is a responsible and ethical one.


Retaliation will not be tolerated Anyone who, in good faith, seeks advice, raises a concern, asks a question, reports actual or suspected misconduct or participates in an investigation is following the Standards — and is doing the right thing. We take claims of retaliation seriously. If you or someone you know is the victim of retaliation, report it immediately. We investigate all allegations of retaliation. Employees who have retaliated against someone who reported or raised a good faith concern about misconduct will be subject to serious disciplinary action, up to and including termination.


Our commitment to each other and to safety

Key points to remember

A company that violates federal safety laws can receive stiff fines. Employees that willfully violate safety laws can be subject to criminal sanctions, including stiff fines and imprisonment.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Each officer is accountable for the safety performance    of his or her department.

Each department is responsible for ensuring that policies, procedures and training are followed to prevent accidents and injuries.


An academic, who has studied safety culture, defined its essence as follows:

… Safety Culture … “the product of individual and group values, attitudes, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and the style and efficiency of, an organizations Health and Safety programs. Organisations with a positive safety culture are characterized by communications founded on mutual trust, by shared perceptions of the importance of safety, and by confidence in the efficacy measures”.

American’s Maintenance and Engineering Department has established a five page policy for review of aircraft damage, incidents or an error event. An Event Review Panel will be established to learn from and then remediate the problem. The ERP’s jurisdiction does not include a hostile response to an employee’s raising a concern, even though such an action would appear to diminish one of the AA core values, TRUST. It might, however, to an incident when an employee’s failure to complete MX tasks to meet a schedule deadline.

IATA has audited the AA program and found it compliant.

According to CBS 2 in Chicago, here is the dialogue between the supervisor and his subordinate:

“Every time you come down here, you write s*** up, and you f*****g leave,” the supervisor said.

 “He’s angry because I wrote up a safety issue, and he didn’t want that airplane not to go flying. He wanted the airplane to go flying,” Lopata said.

It’s not clear exactly what happened before or after the 33-second video, but Lopata explained an earlier incident at O’Hare triggered the supervisor’s outburst.

“You stuck a plane up my a** last time for three f******g minutes, and I trusted you.”

When Lopata told the supervisor he was doing his job, the supervisor angrily shot back, “You’re not doing your job. If you did your job, you’d fix these f*****g issues that you’re writing up.”

“I am. I’ve got to go home. I only work eight hours,” Lopata responded.

When another employee stepped in to try to calm things down, Lopata said he’d been subjected to a hostile work environment the whole night.

Lopata said, a week before the incident, the same supervisor lashed out at him over a three-minute delay for repairs to another plane.

“The aircraft took a delay. I had a bunch of work I had to do on the airplane. It took a three-minute delay,” he said.

Why is a three-minute delay that big of a deal?

“That’s what management says. This comes from high up. Any delay is a big deal to them,” Lopata said.

Lopata posted video of the supervisor’s outburst on YouTube last week. He filed a formal complaint with the airline and the Federal Aviation Administraiton [sic] in November, accusing the supervisor of using profanity, and telling him “my job was not to find items wrong.”

“Nothing was ever done about it,” Lopata said.

The company, as of June 14 suspended the supervisor pending investigation.

First, we have no way to verify the text quoted or the alleged underlying safety violations. The purpose is to demonstrate that SMS as a policy may NOT BE ENOUGH. Safety culture and the principles of this preventative process depend on honesty and trust. That attitude must be adopted by everyone in the organization from the CEO to the women/men who work on the floor shops of the airline.

Second, American might consider more training on communications and/or a mechanism for dealing with such trust-crushing incidents.



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