A former senior aircraft mechanic for Atlantic City International Airport’s only carrier claims the airline regularly falsified inspection records and performed subpar maintenance on its aircraft, according to a lawsuit filed last month in state Superior Court.
Richard Torre, of the Manahawkin section of Stafford Township, and eight other mechanics sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration in 2011 alleging that Spirit Airlines was servicing planes with improper or contaminated fluids and was not providing mechanics with proper tools to service the planes.
Within five months, six of those mechanics, including Torre, were fired, the lawsuit states. None of the other mechanics is named in legal documents filed at the Atlantic County Courthouse.
“In addition, Mr. Torre advised Spirit’s management that his supervisor, Steve Cohen, was signing inspection stickers in blank and giving them to mechanics to fill out, date, and use without him actually performing the inspections which he was signing off on,” states the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
An FAA investigation in early 2012 found no evidence to substantiate allegations that Spirit Airlines improperly kept aircraft maintenance records. No violations of regulations were found during the review, according to the FAA.
Spirit Airlines spokeswoman Misty Pinson did not respond to requests for comment. The airline has been flying from the airport since the 1980s, originally as a charter service called Charter One. By the early 1990s, the low-fare, no-frills airline had changed its name and had begun providing scheduled service.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority, which operates the airport, has not been served with any lawsuit related to Torre.
“Other than the fact that he worked for Spirit at Atlantic City International, the SJTA is not involved,” authority spokesman Kevin Rehmann said.
Torre, a Spirit Airlines employee since 1999, began making complaints in February 2011, but those complaints were initially about management practices rather than safety issues. In a letter to Spirit’s human resources department, Torre and other mechanics claimed a supervisor was favoring certain employees and retaliating against others. Torre continued to follow up with additional written and oral complaints, but those complaints were not investigated, the lawsuit states.
Shortly after, Torre, at that point an employee of 12 years, was moved to a night shift, contrary to seniority rules in the airline’s employment handbook, the complaint states. Torre was then cited for multiple job performance issues. In January 2012, Torre was terminated, after supervision said he improperly signed off on a service entry in an airplane maintenance logbook, a mistake Torre claims had been corrected.
Richard Kilstein, Torre’s Elmwood Park, Bergen County-based attorney, did not return calls.
Records show Spirit has seen $152,325 in six fines since 2005 for maintenance-related issues flagged by the FAA, the largest of which was a $50,000 fine in 2008.
The FAA has levied even larger fines against Spirit in the past. In 1999, the company was fined $86,000 for failing to inspect a jet within a required timeframe. A $67,000 fine followed the next year after an FAA inspection of eight Spirit planes found the airline jeopardized passenger safety because signs throughout the plane displayed incorrect information or did not work properly, the FAA said at the time.
Some placards told passengers their seat cushions would work as flotation devices in an emergency situation when, in fact, the cushions would not float, the FAA said.
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