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Pilot fired for reporting safety issues fights back and wins

When someone is in a serious accident and needs to be flown to a Milwaukee hospital by air ambulance, it's likely that one of the last things on their mind is whether the aircraft is sound or not. But medical aircraft are like all other planes and helicopters: they need to be regularly maintained and inspected to ensure safety.

Yet an Alaska company eager to hide safety issues with its aircraft fired a pilot who reported the problems to the Federal Aviation Administration. A federal judge recently awarded the Anchorage man about $750,000 in his employment law claim.

Pilot Brian Bell was fired two days after an FAA inspection that was triggered by his complaints that the company falsified safety records, forged training records and hid maintenance problems from inspectors. He also complained that his former employer deactivated the fire detection system on a medevac plane.

After the inspection based on his complaints concluded, the company was hit with more than $67,000 in fines, its operations director was suspended and the FAA revoked its chief pilot's certifications.

The whistleblower is entitled to more than $500,000 in back pay, as well as interest on the pay dating to 2012, and attorney fees.

Once he renews his medical certificate, the company must also offer him a pilot's job, though his lawyer said it's unclear whether Bell wants to return.

The company had argued that the pilot was abrasive and that it planned to fire him before he registered complaints with the FAA.

But the judge said it was clear the company knew Bell had contacted the federal agency and that the knowledge played a significant role in his firing.

The company said it plans to appeal the decision.

It should be noted that companies are prohibited by law from firing employees who report illegal activities. If you've been wrongfully discharged for doing the right thing, speak to an experienced employment law attorney.

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