California Pacific Airlines canceled all its flights and closed its offices in early January, but a recently filed lawsuit offers a troubling look inside day-to-day operations at the start-up airline.
According to the lawsuit, Licensed FAA mechanic Tim Williams alleges that on November 25, 2018, California Pacific Airlines managers ignored his warning that a jet bound for San Jose from Palomar Airport in Carlsbad was unsafe to fly.
Instead of following his advice and grounding the jet, William’s lawsuit alleges that California Pacific allowed the plane to stay on schedule. Two days after the incident, Williams claimed the company fired him, in violation of state labor and whistleblower protection laws.
California Pacific Airlines did not respond to NBC 7 Investigates’ questions about the lawsuit or alleged safety issues.
The lawsuit characterizes California Pacific Airlines as an “upstart airline… that was immediately beset by problems caused by its shortage of flightworthy aircraft and experienced pilots.”
William’s lawyers describe the airline’s fleet as “long in the tooth” and “an aging fleet”, which should have made maintenance “of utmost importance” because there is “less room (for) reliance on an aircraft’s safety redundancies.”
William’s lawyers would not make him available for an interview, but veteran aviation expert Glen Winn told NBC 7 Investigates he is surprised and concerned by the mechanic’s allegation that California Pacific ignored legitimate safety issues.
“You would take [a licensed aviation mechanic’s] word as truth, gospel, whatever you want to call it, and you would ground that airplane,” Winn said.
In his lawsuit, Williams claims his manager instead told him "not to worry about it" because the plane had been recently serviced.
But according to the lawsuit, Williams stood his ground, telling his boss "I am reminded of Alaska Flight 261 that crashed [off the California coast in January 2000 killing 88 passengers and crew] because it was not properly maintained."
William’s lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, alleges that California Pacific executives kept the jet in service that day, allowing company pilots to fly it from Carlsbad to San Jose and back, and on dozens of more flights until December. The lawsuit includes a “Flight Activity History” for that plane, which confirms it was flown on and after November 25.
Searching the FAA’s website, NBC 7 Investigates could not find any public documents or published Service Disruption Reports indicating problems reported with the specific aircraft in 2018.
There are also no documents showing whether or not California Pacific re-inspected or repaired the aircraft after Williams issued his warning.
But Glen Winn says even if the plane continued to fly trouble-free, the mechanic’s allegations are still very troubling.
“[California Pacific] is very lucky that they didn't have an accident with the aircraft,” Winn said. “Pure and simple, that’s what it boils down to.”
California Pacific closed its counter at the Carlsbad airport earlier this month, and the company’s website says only that it has canceled all its flights.
NBC 7 Investigates sent two emails to California Pacific Airline’s public relations staff, asking detailed questions about the lawsuit and the company’s safety record. California Pacific has not responded to those emails.