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PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Whistleblowers at Delta Air Lines

Cannot Be Silenced

Judge Finds Delta Took Adverse Action
Against Whistleblower Aircraft Mechanic

Back in 2019, Aviation Maintenance Technician, Mark Wheeler communicated to his supervisors, and then the FAA, that Delta Air Lines tooling equivalency process was not compliant with Federal Standards. One of Mark's communications concerned Delta’s failure to comply with an FAA Airworthiness Directive for over fourteen years. His reports concerned the maintenance of aircraft engine wiring harnesses, which are related to the electrical systems that control airplane functions. 

The FAA Agreed! 

The FAA thanked Mr. Wheeler for his report, in the letter below, and concurred with his determination of Delta's non- compliance. They (FAA) even advised him that they would take “appropriate action to address the matter.” 

From: FAA Hotline (

To: (Mark Wheeler Email redacted)

Date: Monday, December 9, 2019, 01:48 PM EST

Dear Mr. Mark Wheeler:

The FAA’s Delta Airlines Certificate Management Office has completed their investigation of your safety allegations in case S20190916002. The investigation found that current procedures and policies are not adequate for the manuals where a nondescript designation of calibrated test equipment is to be used. Accordingly, the FAA is taking appropriate action to address the matter.

Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.


Reporting and Data Analysis Branch
Federal Aviation Administration Office of Audit and Evaluation
800 Independence Avenue SW, Room 911 |Washington DC 20591

Delta Did Not Thank
Mark Wheeler For His Report

Instead, when his fellow aircraft mechanics were recalled from a COVID-related furlough, Delta refused to restore Mark to his regular forty- hour work week. Mark filed an AIR21 complaint. 

In a decision issued July 28, 2023, Federal Administrative Law Judge Theodore W. Annos held that Aviation Maintenance Technician Mark Wheeler had engaged in protected whistleblower activity by communicating to his supervisors and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that Delta Air Lines’ tooling equivalency process was not in compliance with federal standards. 

Judge Annos found that it was “undisputed” that Delta had taken an adverse action against Mr. Wheeler. The issues of Delta’s liability and damages remains to be determined in a full trial pursuant to the AIR 21 whistleblower statute.

Bret Oestreich, President of the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA), which represents aviation maintenance technicians at numerous airlines, including Southwest, Alaska, and Spirit, commented: 

"Failing to comply with an FAA Airworthiness Directive for over fourteen years is jaw- slackening. If there is any non-compliance related to an aircraft’s electrical system, that plane is un-airworthy, period. That plane should not be in the National Air Space; it should be on the ground getting fixed.”

 “Delta needs to overhaul its maintenance culture.”

Bret Oestreich

Note: Delta Mechanics are not represented by a union, leaving them unprotected. I would like to see AMFA on Delta's property to help these mechanics survive the threat of termination when they attempt to improve safety by doing their jobs correctly. 

Samuel Seham, Mark Wheeler's attorney, states:

“An aircraft mechanic who identifies violations of FAA safety standards should receive a commendation, rather than suffer an adverse action.” 

Having lived an Air21 battle with Delta I was hoping the culture would have changed, but it has not. The problem is that the AIR21 Law does not have punitive damages, there is no accountability, and insurance finances the airline's legal bills. Without appropriate punishment against the individuals involved inappropriate behavior will continue and safety will be in jeopardy. 

We could ask Ed Bastian, Delta's CEO and Chairman of the Board to comment on this situation. But, after sitting through his deposition, I'm uncertain if that option will provide anything of value. Below is the shortened version of his deposition, to include only his responses. Note: There are actually 62 memory lapses, not 30 as the depiction indicates. 

If you are an airline employee who has been harmed because you are attempting to improve safety, you need to reach out to Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, LLP. 

Mark Wheeler's representation is Samuel Seham, the son of my attorney Lee Seham. Both are brilliant, honest, and have a full understanding of employment law.  But this huge win against Delta's high-powered outsourced attorneys goes to Samuel Seham. Well deserved. 

Seham, Seham, Meltz & Petersen, LLP   

The continuation of bad behavior is the very reason we need AIR21 reform. If you have not read the proposed AIR21 changes, or signed the petition, I ask you to do so HERE. I was told this would be on the FAA 2023 Reauthorization Bill. But instead, they included a $25,000 fine for the statue. That's nothing more than 2 Delta First Class tickets on an International flight--- a slap on the hand. When Delta can spend $20 million defending a case and the employee might get 90% of their attorney fees reimbursed, this is not justice, nor does it solve the problem. Compensatory damages, no accountability, and a paltry fine won't change the behavior. Your voice might make a difference. 

Speak Out For Safety
Dr. Karlene Petitt
A350, B777, A330, B747-400, B747-200, B767, B757, B737, B727

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