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Air Methods Corp. v. OPEIU

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 3, 2013

OPEIU; OPEIU Local 109, Defendants-Appellees.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Raymond M. Deeny (Matthew M. Morrison with him on the briefs) of Sherman & Howard, LLC, Denver, CO, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Todd M. Smith of Schwarzwald McNair & Fusco, LLP, Cleveland, OH, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before KELLY, McKAY, and MATHESON, Circuit Judges.

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McKAY, Circuit Judge.

This case arises out of an arbitration award granted in favor of a helicopter pilot whom Plaintiff Air Method Corporation had terminated following an incident in April 2010. The pilot, Jeff Stackpole, is a member of Defendant Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local 109 (" OPEIU Local 109" ). Mr. Stackpole was represented by OPEIU Local 109 throughout the arbitration process. After the arbitration award was granted in Mr. Stackpole's favor, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants Office and Professional Employees International Union (" OPEIU" ) and OPEIU Local 109 pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. ยงยง 151 et seq., in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado seeking to vacate the award. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled in favor of Defendants, thereby upholding the arbitration award. Plaintiff now appeals the district court's decision.


Plaintiff is engaged in the air transportation business. Its business activities include the use of helicopters to transport medical personnel to accident sites and to transport injured persons from the scene of accidents to medical facilities or between medical facilities. Plaintiff's pilots are represented by Defendants OPEIU and OPEIU Local 109. As an air carrier, Plaintiff is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA requires Plaintiff to comply with FAA certification standards and with all Federal Aviation Regulations. The regulations require that air carriers, such as plaintiff, develop and implement a general operations manual containing policies, procedures, and rules that govern the carriers' flights. Once an air carrier's general operations manual is approved by the FAA, the carrier's pilots are required to comply with the rules set forth within it as though they were set forth in the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Plaintiff's General Operations Manual explicitly states the pilot-in-command of an aircraft " will not allow persons other than a pilot employed by Air Methods Corp. who is qualified in the aircraft ... to manipulate the controls of an aircraft during flight." (Appellant's App. at 62.) According to Plaintiff's interpretation of this language, in order to be " qualified" in a specific aircraft, a pilot must be certified to fly a Section 135 flight in that aircraft. A Section 135 flight refers to a flight that is governed by Section 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations. The primary characteristic of a Section 135 flight is that it includes paying passengers on the flight. In order to become certified to fly a particular aircraft on a Section 135 flight, a pilot must receive a certain amount of aircraft-specific flight training and pass a flight evaluation. Plaintiff does not allow pilots to fly any company aircraft until they are qualified to fly a Section 135 flight, regardless of whether the flight actually includes paying passengers. Rather, it is Plaintiff's policy not to allow a pilot-in-training to operate the controls of a company aircraft unless a designated trainer is present and performing flight training with the trainee.

On April 29, 2010, Mr. Stackpole allowed an unqualified pilot to manipulate the controls of an aircraft during flight and thereby violated Plaintiff's General Operations Manual. Mr. Stackpole, at the request of one of Plaintiff's certified flight instructors, allowed a pilot-in-training to accompany him on an assignment in a BK-117 helicopter. Mr. Stackpole was not a certified flight instructor. Though the pilot-in-training had experience flying other aircraft and was being trained as a Section 135 pilot on the BK-117, company policy

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prohibited any pilot-in-command from giving him operational control of a BK-117 because he had not yet completed his Section 135 certification process on this aircraft.

During the assignment, Mr. Stackpole flew the aircraft while traveling to an accident scene and while transporting an injured person to a medical facility. However, Mr. Stackpole allowed the pilot-in-training to take control of the aircraft during various portions of the flight when no paying passengers were aboard. Mr. Stackpole ultimately allowed the pilot-in-training to attempt a landing at Plaintiff's base in Granite City, Illinois. During the landing, the pilot-in-training mishandled the controls, which resulted in the rotor blades hitting the aircraft's wire-strike device. The wire-strike device was damaged, along with all four of the aircraft's rotors. A plexiglass housing atop the aircraft was also damaged. As a result, the aircraft was out of service for approximately one month while Plaintiff made repairs costing around $250,000.

Following an investigation into the incident, Plaintiff determined Mr. Stackpole was the pilot-in-command during the incident and he had relinquished control of the aircraft to an unqualified pilot. Plaintiff terminated Mr. Stackpole for his actions. In the letter of reprimand informing Mr. Stackpole that he was being terminated, Plaintiff described Mr. Stackpole's actions as " an egregious violation of Company ...

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