Whistleblower lawsuit claims Hawaiian Airlines covered up sexual assaults, security failures
Honolulu, HAWAII — Hawaiian Airlines’ former head of corporate security is accusing the company in a lawsuit of covering up a litany of wrongdoing, including plane safety issues, multiple sexual assaults by pilots and cybersecurity failures.
The plaintiff, Thomas Aiu, was hired by Hawaiian Airlines in 2015 and was fired in September 2019, his lawsuit states.
While the company cited “behavior and performance” issues to justify his termination, Aiu’s complaint, filed Friday, states he was “discharged in order to preserve a corporate culture which eschewed transparency, and instead emphasized secrecy over compliance, loyalty over safety.”
Throughout Aiu’s tenure, his superiors allegedly interfered with his ability to perform his job, including directives to “close down investigations” and disregard federal laws that require the airline to disclose certain events, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement, Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva disputed Aiu’s allegations.
“We have carefully reviewed Mr. Aiu’s complaint against our own records of the time he was with our airline and found it to be stunningly inaccurate,” he said. “We look forward to refuting these claims in a court of law.”
Before joining Hawaiian Airlines, Aiu was a Drug Enforcement Administration agent for 28 years. He holds a degree in criminal justice management from Chaminade University and a law degree from the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law.
He was a finalist to be Honolulu’s police chief in 2017. However, questions were raised about his credibility and truthfulness after Steve Alm, the former U.S. attorney and now city prosecutor, told the Police Commission that the feds had a policy of not calling Aiu as a witness. Aiu is frequently interviewed as a law enforcement expert on Hawaii News Now.
In his lawsuit, Aiu, represented by attorneys Richard Wilson and Scott Collins, cites numerous examples of alleged misconduct and mishaps that he claims the company worked to cover up. Wilson did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. Attempts to reach Aiu were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit states that Hawaiian prematurely terminated several investigations into several company employees in order to avoid informing the Federal Aviation Administration.
This included investigations into:
A flight attendant who “brutally beat” a California CEO during a layover and was allowed to keep his job, despite Aiu’s recommendation to fire him, the lawsuit states.
A pilot who was arrested after allegedly firing a pistol at cars and homes in Kihei, Maui in 2017. The pilot faced no disciplinary action, according to the lawsuit.
A pilot who was alleged to have repeatedly raped a flight attendant in 2018. Hawaiian Airlines allowed the pilot to resign in lieu of discipline, the lawsuit states, and the pilot transferred to Delta Airlines.
A pilot who allegedly raped a woman during a layover in California and admitted it on a phone call monitored by police. The lawsuit states the pilot is still working as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot.
A pilot who allegedly sexually assaulted a woman during a layover in New York. The pilot is still employed by Hawaiian and hasn’t faced discipline, according to the lawsuit.
Aiu’s complaint also accuses Hawaiian of failing to inform the Federal Aviation Administration, the flight team and passengers in 2017 that a plane had a “compromised airframe.”
The lawsuit states that 300 passengers and crew members flew 2,500 miles over the Pacific Ocean without being informed of their risk of harm.
After a separate incident in 2019 in which a plane flying from Oakland to Honolulu made an emergency landing in Honolulu, Aiu’s supervisor, Neil Schnaak, allegedly told Aiu that his call to the FBI was unnecessary and that federal investigators should not be called again in any future emergencies, according to the lawsuit.
Schnaak left Hawaiian Airlines in May 2021, according to his LinkedIn profile. Civil Beat was unable to reach Schnaak for comment.
Hawaiian failed to notify the proper authorities in two cybersecurity mishaps, according to the lawsuit.
In September 2015, Hawaiian experienced a data breach in which an unknown third party compromised the airline’s reservation system, according to the lawsuit.
The database contained “highly sensitive employee, customer and vendor travel information,” including full legal names, emails, residential addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, passport information, partial credit card information and more, the lawsuit states.
The breach “likely touched almost every local traveler in the State of Hawaii,” according to the lawsuit.
When Aiu learned of the breach, his lawsuit states he alerted the Department of Homeland Security. But when DHS agents sought additional information from Hawaiian, the airline allegedly declined to discuss the matter. And the breach was not reported to the Federal Trade Commission or other federal authorities, the lawsuit states.
Aiu recommended informing the public about the situation, his lawsuit states, but Hawaiian chose not to.
In 2018, Hawaiian was tricked into sending $750,000 to fraudsters in Hong Kong via an email scam, the lawsuit states. The FBI advised Hawaiian to interview its staff to ascertain how this happened, but “Hawaiian declined,” the lawsuit states.
Hawaiian never formally notified federal agencies about the scam as required by law, according to the lawsuit.
Ultimately, Aiu’s lawsuit states he was fired after he complained about Schnaak to upper management over the handling of a traveler on their “no fly” list.
His complaint states that he faced retaliation for whistleblowing, a violation of state law, and that Hawaiian defamed him by sharing his termination letter with multiple third parties, among other claims.