Court backs airline in aviation security case

January 28, 2014 - 5:25:19 am
WASHINGTON: The United States Supreme Court yesterday overturned a defamation judgment against an airline which had been sued after warning that a former pilot could pose a security risk.

William Hoeper initially won a $1.4m settlement against his former employer Air Wisconsin, which had alerted the federal Transportation Security Administration that he may be carrying a weapon after he boarded a flight. Hoeper had reacted angrily after failing a flight simulation test for a fourth time with the airline at their facility in Virginia in December 2004. The repeated test failures left Hoeper facing almost certain dismissal.

The airline contacted the TSA expressing concern “about his mental stability and the whereabouts of his firearm” during his return flight to Denver, Colorado.

As a precaution, the flight Hoeper had boarded was returned to the gate. Hoeper, who was not traveling with a firearm, was searched and interrogated before returning to Denver on a later flight. He was fired by Air Wisconsin the following day.

He successfully sued for defamation but yesterday the Supreme Court ruled in favour of his former employers, stating that airline companies should not face the threat of legal action for passing on potential security threats, even if they turn out to be unfounded. 

A law passed by Congress in 2001 following the September 11 attacks had sought to “ensure that air carriers and their employees would not hesitate to provide the TSA with the information it needed,” US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the ruling.