CARSON CITY — The Nevada Department of Transportation has been ordered to reinstate a pilot who was terminated last April for violating a safety regulation.
Hearing Officer Bill Kockenmeister ordered the department to reinstate pilot James Richardson with full back pay and chastised the Transportation Department for not disciplining Chief State Pilot Gary Phillips for similar safety violations. The decision was announced Tuesday.
Kockenmeister noted that Richardson and Phillips "do not like each other," but added that had nothing to do with his decision.
Since he was fired, Richardson has claimed the department ignored that Phillips allowed his 14-year-old son to fly the department’s Citation and that he several times flew the plane with low fuel reserves, including once in 2007 when Gov. Jim Gibbons was a passenger.
Kockenmeister said the department could demote Richardson, but added that Phillips’ "transgressions" were at least as severe and he was not disciplined.
Richardson received satisfactory or above satisfactory annual evaluations since he was hired as a pilot in 2004. Kockenmeister said his dismissal for a single safety violation was not justified.
Department spokesman Scott Magruder said his agency will not reinstate Richardson and intends to appeal the hearing officer’s decision.
Magruder also said that Phillips no longer is chief pilot for the department. The department plans to hire a new chief pilot in April, Magruder said.
Richardson was fired after a March 2008 incident in which an intern co-pilot on a flight to Las Vegas allowed the plane’s engines to exceed the manufacturer’s recommended speeds. Under the plane’s manual, the engines should have been inspected before the plane flew again.
But Richardson failed to tell Phillips about the incident when he returned to Carson City. The plane was allowed to fly three times before the engines were inspected.
Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.