When a pilot refused to fly twice over worries about dangerous conditions, the Louisiana-based helicopter ambulance service they worked for “retaliated,” federal labor officials say.
Two weeks after the pilot’s refusals, the Department of Labor says Metro Aviation LLC, in Shreveport, “forced them to resign, retire or be involuntarily separated from the company” in August 2021, according to an Aug. 9 news release.
Now the company, which has roughly 140 aircraft serving hospitals in more than 25 states, must pay the Utah pilot $188,000 in back pay and damages following an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the release says.
The Labor Department has also ordered Metro Aviation to reinstate the pilot, who would not fly on the two occasions due to limited visibility, after OSHA found that the company violated federal law by forcing them out of their job, according to the agency.
The Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century protects the pilot and others who refuse to take on assignments when they “reasonably” believe it would “violate aviation safety regulations,” the release says.
“Employees must freely exercise their legal rights regarding workplace safety with no fear of retaliation by their employer,” OSHA’s Denver administrator Jennifer S. Rous said in a statement.
Metro Aviation and the pilot have 30 days to file any objections or ask for a hearing after receiving the Labor Department’s orders, according to the release.
Todd Stanberry, a part-owner of Metro Aviation, told McClatchy News in an Aug. 11 statement that the company plans to seek a hearing and that, “We take all matters involving the safety of our employees very seriously.”
“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,” Stanberry said.
“We will stay focused on what we do best: operating and maintaining aircraft safely with the best employees in the industry, for the best customers in the industry,” Stanberry added.
The company employs a number of pilots to take on medical air transport operations across the U.S., according to its website.