DeWitt Ingram joined American Airlines predecessor MetroJet in 1999. This 2000 photo “is a look back … [+] to fulfillment of my lifelong dream of becoming an airline pilot,” he said.
DeWitt Ingram, a 21-year American pilot, wants his life back.
In August 2020, Ingram, 64, became trapped in a nightmarish scenario involving a botched attempt by an employee of a ground services company. The employee sought to notify him to take a random drug test after a flight to Miami. She didn’t know his name and apparently thought he was somebody else.
Pilots are routinely administered random drug and alcohol tests. But under the circumstances, Ingram declined to be tested. Two months later, American fired him. Then the Federal Aviation Administration revoked his pilot license.
He has lived in limbo ever since. Unable to work in his profession, he spent his life savings. “That night was the end of all pay and benefits,” Ingram said. “I’ve exhausted my 401K and sold stock and two cars to survive.
“Never in my worst nightmare could I have dreamed my happy world of personal and professional achievement and pride could end so disastrously as it did,” he said. “It’s been a long dark hole in the ground prison – alone and told repeatedly to never tell anyone so as to protect me.”
Ingram began flying for American predecessor MetroJet, a US Airways offshoot, in 1999. In 2000, a ramp agent took the picture above of him at Palm Beach International Airport. “How I wish I could go back to 2000 and live in that picture and the simple life of joy and pride I once had,” he said.
The truth of Ingram’s case began to emerge publicly this month in two court hearings in Miami. In one, a judge dismissed the FAA’s case. In the other, a judge allowed his lawsuit to proceed seeking compensation for the incident. Now he and the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, will pursue a third case, a grievance against American.
Whatever the outcome, Ingram will never fly for American again. He cannot be retrained quickly enough to fly before his 65th birthday in January. The grievance and the civil suit will establish whether there is liability for American and Eulen America, the ground services company that employed the woman who mistakenly notified him that he should be tested. American declined to comment. Eulen did not respond to emails.
In one case, which had a Miami hearing on Oct. 19 , an administrative law judge at a National Transportation Safety Board hearing ruled that the FAA took his license illegally.
“Yesterday was a great day for your union,” wrote Ed Sicher, president of the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots, said in an Oct. 20 message to pilots.
After the FAA presented its case, “APA special counsel Sue Edwards made a motion to dismiss the case based upon the lack of credible factual evidence produced by the FAA,” Sicher said. The FAA’s intent was “ to establish that proper notification had occurred or that there was a refusal to test on the part of the pilot,” he said.
The judge quickly struck down the FAA’s case. “Following a brief recess, the chief administrative law judge returned to the courtroom and rendered a decision from the bench granting the motion in its entirety,” Sicher said.
“American Airlines and the FAA took the position that the pilot was properly notified by a Eulen Aviation notifier and that his failure to complete the test constituted a ‘refusal,’ ” Sicher wrote. “The pilot repeatedly and consistently insisted that the notifier had never notified him that he was selected for a random alcohol/drug test.
“Many services and employees were transferred to Eulen in advance of the American Airlines bankruptcy,” wrote Sicher, himself a Miami-based pilot. “Eulen is the preferred contractor that American Airlines utilized for many services from logistics and ground support to drug testing notification, despite its obviously lackluster performance.”
“This fight will continue as APA shifts its focus to now assisting this pilot through representation in the pending wrongful termination grievance and by offering support in his civil court action,” Sicher said. Ingram “needs to be made whole for the loss of his earnings, the loss of his license, and the abuse he was administered.”
The day before the NTSB case, a Florida State Court judge allowed Ingram’s lawsuit against American Airlines and Eulen America to proceed. The two companies had sought a dismissal.
In a prepared statement, Scott Mager, Ingram’s attorney, described the sequence of events that led to the case.
“Random testing is enabled through a notification process whereby a notifier directly approaches the pilot and notifies him by name.” Mager wrote. However, in Ingram’s case, the notifier “asked the flight attendant at the aircraft door for ‘David,’ ” Mager wrote. Subsequently, Ingram met the notifier and told her his name was not David, and the two “both walked up the jet bridge and into the terminal.”
“The next day, Ingram awoke to several voice mail messages from American Airlines flight department, expressing their shock that he refused to take a drug and alcohol test,” Mager wrote. Ingram, upset by the call, scheduled tests, including a blood test, that showed no alcohol or drugs were in his system, Mager wrote. Nevertheless, Mager wrote, American requested that the FAA revoke his pilot licenses and aircraft ratings.
As a result, Mager wrote, “Ingram was grounded forever and all FAA public records of him ever having been a pilot were gone from the FAA Airmen Registry public website.”