In 2006, Capt. Patrick Hart was deadheading (flying in uniform but not at the helm) on a Gulfstream International Airlines flight from Orlando to Miami when things got a little bumpy.
He said from where he sat in the back of the 19-seater, he could see the small plane's wingtips bouncing erratically against the horizon.
When he walked into the cockpit, he said, he saw the pilot had an unorthodox, possibly hazardous, way of manning the controls.
"He would tap the controls with his knee," he said, or the back of his hand -- something you don't do if you're not on autopilot.
Hart said other crew members knew about the pilot's habit, though many were too scared to say anything to management. He said smaller airlines employ aspiring pilots, who pay upward of $40,000 to get 250 flight hours under their belts. He said inexperienced pilots are afraid of jeopardizing their careers by complaining. "They won't do a damned thing to lose their $40,000 investment," he said.
Hart said when he complained to management, he lost his job. He filed suit in 2007 under Florida's Whistleblower Act.
"I step up to the plate, and I get my head chopped off," he said as he and Capt. Kenny Edwards, a plaintiff in another whistleblower suit against the company, waited for the jury to deliver a verdict Tuesday afternoon.
Gulfstream International Airlines did not return several calls requesting comment. The airline filed for bankruptcy in 2010. In May, Chicago-based asset management firm Victory Park Capital bought the Fort Lauderdale-based carrier. The airline flies to several Bahamas destinations and shuttles some state lawmakers to and from Tallahassee during session.
The jury was still in deliberations this afternoon. A verdict is expected Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Update: the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff Wednesday afternoon.