Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 | 4:25 p.m.
Charter aircraft crew members who made flights for the government into war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq are suing a North Las Vegas airline, claiming the company failed to pay all of the federal hazard pay they are due for their work.
Las Vegas attorney Ross Goodman said Friday he filed the class-action suit in U.S. District Court against Vision Airlines Inc., which he says has been running the charters carrying personnel and cargo since May 2005.
Officials at Vision, known locally for flying Grand Canyon tour flights, could not immediately be reached for comment on the allegations.
At least 300 current and former employees are affected, the lawsuit says.
"Vision’s employees risked their lives by flying missions into Iraq and Afghanistan in support of the United States government operations in those countries," Goodman said. "In return the government provided Vision with hazard pay for those employees.
"Vision betrayed the trust of its people when it decided to keep that hazard pay for itself," he said.
Goodman said the suit was filed to hold Vision accountable and "to prevent it from profiting from its wrongdoing."
One of the plaintiffs, who spoke on the condition he not be named, is a former Vision pilot who believes he is owed in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said he flew hundreds of Boeing 737 and 767 flights between Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., to Europe and then on to Kabul, Afghanistan, or Baghdad, Iraq.
He said the purpose of the flights was to ferry personnel to and from antiterrorism and military operations. The passengers typically included CIA and State Department personnel along with employees of private security contractor Blackwater, he said.
The pilot, who said one flight outside of Kabul came under machine-gun fire that missed his plane, said all of the landings and takeoffs in the war zones were done at night using tight, difficult approaches and departures for security reasons.
The class action suit, filed by former pilot Gerald Hester of Colleyville, Texas, and others similarly situated, says, "flying aircraft to and from the airports in Baghdad and Kabul is extremely dangerous."
"Aircraft typically arrive or depart these airports under the cover of darkness to avoid light arms fire, rocket propelled grenades and missile attacks. In fact, all flights arriving and departing from the airports in Baghdad and Kabul must be authorized by either the United States or British military operational command centers located in those cities," the suit says.
Aircraft must observe blackout procedures in which exterior and interior lights are turned off and then must execute difficult corkscrew landing procedures in which aircraft fly within a spiral above the airport while landing in order to minimize their exposure to enemy fire, the suit says.
The hazard pay due to charter crews flying to and from Iraq is $2,500 for each captain, first officer and international relief officer for each take-off and landing, the suit says. Other crew members such as flight attendants and mechanics are to receive $1,500 each for each take-off and landing, the suit says.
The suit says hazard pay was initially provided to some employees, but those payments were later halted by management.
"Despite receiving more than $21 million in hazard pay intended for its employees, Vision has failed to pay its employees the hazard pay to which they are entitled," the suit says.
Steve Green can be reached at 990-7714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.