Delta Air settles with pilot who raised safety concerns

Delta Air Lines has settled the allegations of a pilot who said the airline ordered him to undergo a psychiatric examination and barred him from flying in retaliation for raising safety concerns with company executives.

The settlement approved Friday ends a long-running dispute in which a federal arbitrator accepted numerous claims by the pilot and said Delta had shown no defects in its flight ability. In 2019, the case threatened to derail former President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.

The terms of the settlement were confidential, although the pilot’s law firm said they were ‘in line’ with the 2020 arbitrator’s decision, which said Karlene Petitt deserved to get $500,000 in compensation for the damage done to his career.

Atlanta-based Delta declined to comment.

Petitt argued his case under a 2000 law designed to protect whistleblowers who report aviation safety concerns.

In early 2016, Petitt gave two senior Delta executives a more than 40-page report in which she raised allegations of pilots being forced to fly when fatigued, deficiencies in Delta pilot training, falsification of training records and other issues. She also emailed the CEO of the airline.

After meeting with Delta officials, Petitt was referred to a psychiatrist chosen by the airline, who diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. Petitt was grounded for nearly two years until independent doctors found her fit to fly.

Federal safety regulators reviewed Petitt’s claims and determined that Delta did not count the time pilots spent flying to flights as part of their maximum work day. Delta said it changed the policy.

In 2019, the case delayed a vote on nominating Delta executive Stephen Dickson to head the FAA. Dickson had authorized Petitt’s grounding for psychiatric evaluation. Senate Democrats said the allegations raise questions about Delta’s safety culture and Dickson’s candor, as he did not mention the matter in a questionnaire asking if he was involved in any lawsuits.

The Senate confirmed Dickson by a 52-40 vote in July 2019, but he resigned from the FAA this year before the end of his five-year term, citing personal reasons.

The settlement between Delta and Petitt was approved Friday by Labor Department Administrative Law Judge Scott Morris in New Jersey.

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