A pilot was forced out of his job flying private jets for a Blackbushe Airport-based company after whistle-blowing on a colleague who took off after crashing on a runway, a tribunal heard.
Captain Graham Howard claims he was sacked from his consultant role for bringing ‘unwelcome focus’ on Blink Ltd, an air taxi service with 22 pilots and customers including entrepreneurs, executives and celebrities, when he took his concerns to the Civil Aviation Authority.
The 63-year-old, of Timberley Place, Crowthorne, who has 35 years’ experience as a pilot and trainer, claimed that colleague Captain Paul Horrocks risked committing a criminal offence by flying a damaged plane without getting authorisation to do so. He is claiming £110,000 from Blink.
Mr Howard told the tribunal in Reading that the small commercial aircraft’s wing had hit a fire extinguisher before take-off in Salerno, Italy, on July 24 2013, causing £24,000 worth of damage.
His colleague failed to inform maintenance staff and flew to Farnborough Airport, he said.
In another incident in November 2012, the same pilot was said to have flown an over-fuelled plane from Rennes, France, to Blackbushe Airport and failed to report the error correctly.
Mr Howard, who started at Blink Ltd in April 2008, said he became aware of the wing damage while discussing insurance options after the incident. He said he saw a report filed by Captain Horrocks which said he struck the fire extinguisher after deliberately driving out of an assigned area and caused a ‘significant’ dent.
Mr Howard said the damage was not reported to the correct authorities and the ‘vital task’ of contacting CSE Aviation, Blink’s maintenance provider, was delegated to an inexperienced co-pilot, who emailed three photos to the company.
He said that, instead of waiting for permission to fly from CSE, Mr Horrocks took off minutes later. “I was very concerned about this incident as by failing to obtain authorisation from CSE to operate the flight, Captain Horrocks did not know whether it was safe to do so and therefore operated an illegal public transport flight,” said Mr Howard.
He said Captain Horrocks’ statement of the incident read: ‘Despite several setbacks, this (arrival at Farnborough) was something we achieved, albeit with 16 seconds to spare’, which he described as ‘truly terrifying’.
“I could see no outcome other than a repeat of the mistakes of the past,” he said.
After creating a retraining schedule to remove Captain Horrocks from command, Mr Howard was dismissed on July 16 last year.
“The letter set out 12 reasons for the termination, none of which I felt were sufficient to justify termination,” he said. “I suspected the real reason for my dismissal was that I had made a disclosure to the CAA.”
The tribunal, in front of Judge Robert Salter, heard evidence from Mr Ogden, who claimed Mr Howard had disliked Captain Horrocks.
He told the tribunal that Captain Horrocks had been investigated for flying while over-fuelled and that the formal warning, temporary suspension and stringent retraining was deemed sufficient punishment. The CAA also did not take any action against Captain Horrocks.
Mr Ogden said Mr Howard was dismissed due to erratic attendance, failing to implement training for Captain Horrocks and drinking alcohol at work.
Judge Salter retired to consider his verdict, which will be published at a later date.