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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 26, 2004

HAL bankruptcy trustee kicked off plane by pilot

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

A Hawaiian Airlines pilot asked bankruptcy trustee Josh Gotbaum to get off a plane preparing for takeoff Thursday, saying he was angry about Gotbaum's policies and could not safely fly the Boeing 767-300 with the trustee aboard.

Gotbaum agreed to leave rather than delay the takeoff, an airline spokesman said yesterday.

"The pilot told him he wasn't happy to have him on the flight," said Hawaiian spokesman Keoni Wagner. "Rather than delay the flight by discussing it at that point, he decided to take another flight."

The pilot, Capt. Craig Kobayashi, said yesterday: "So many employees are so emotional about him after all of the things Gotbaum has done, such as freezing our pension plan."

Hawaiian, which filed for bankruptcy in March 2003, is overdue in making $4.5 million worth of payments to the pilots' pension plan. Gotbaum has proposed several options for handling the plan, including terminating it, converting it to a defined-contribution plan or freezing it and protecting the earned benefits.

Thursday's incident is the only time that a Hawaiian pilot has asked Gotbaum to forgo a flight since he was appointed by the bankruptcy court last summer to run Hawai'i's largest airline.

Kobayashi said he was not trying to make a political or labor statement when he asked Gotbaum to leave Flight 12 from Honolulu to San Francisco.

"This was strictly a matter of safety," Kobayashi said. "It's not a vendetta. It's not anything else. I didn't feel that I could function properly."

Federal Aviation Administration officials yesterday said airline captains have the right to ask anyone to leave their planes.

"That's standard aviation protocol," FAA spokesman Donn Walker said. "A captain is in charge of his or her ship. It doesn't mean that the airline won't get mad at them for doing it. But it's the captain's place to decide who does or does not fly on his or her plane."

Kobayashi, 55, has been flying for Hawaiian for 25 years. He was preparing the plane for take-off when he learned that Gotbaum was settling into a first-class seat.

Kobayashi asked a flight attendant to bring Gotbaum to the cockpit, where he asked the trustee to leave the plane.

Kobayashi said Gotbaum "asked if he could give his side of the story and I said, 'That's fair.' He spoke about the good things he's trying to do and that his word is good. ... I told him, 'Actions speak louder than words. For now, I need to ask you to remove yourself from the flight,' which he did."

Jim Giddings, the head of the Hawaiian Airlines' pilots union, said, "All of our pilots are very professional, and they maintain a very high level of professional standards regardless of the circumstances. ... This is an isolated incident ... and we look forward to working through the bankruptcy issues going forward with Mr. Gotbaum for the benefit of Hawaiian Airlines."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8085.