Salt Lake City, Utah – A heated dispute between two commercial airline pilots led to a federal court showdown on Thursday. Former Delta Air Lines pilot Jonathan J. Dunn, 42, appeared in court for the first time after being indicted by a grand jury on charges of interfering with a flight crew. The altercation occurred on a 2022 flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake City, where Dunn, the co-pilot, allegedly threatened to shoot the captain for suggesting a diversion due to a passenger’s medical emergency.
In court, Dunn’s attorney, John W. Huber, argued that the incident was a “misunderstanding,” while prosecutors portrayed it as a serious offense. If convicted, Dunn could face up to 20 years in prison. The trial date has been set for March 12 by Judge Jared C. Bennett.
According to court documents, the argument erupted in the cockpit when the captain suggested diverting the flight to Grand Junction if the passenger’s condition worsened. Dunn objected and allegedly made multiple threats to shoot the captain, accusing him of acting irrationally. While Dunn admitted to making the threats, he claimed they were intended as a joke. However, the captain perceived them as a genuine threat and expressed concerns that Dunn might use his firearm to take control of the aircraft.
During the hearing, Huber emphasized that Dunn had no prior criminal history, urging the judge not to consider him dangerous. However, new court documents revealed that Dunn expressed remorse for his actions, acknowledging that the situation could have been much worse. Delta Airlines confirmed that Dunn no longer works for the company, and the Transportation Security Administration has revoked his authorization to carry a firearm on board.
The program allowing pilots to carry guns on domestic flights was implemented as a security measure following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Pilots like Dunn volunteer for specialized training as federal flight deck officers. They undergo extensive vetting, training, and regular medical exams. Experts emphasize that the weapons should only be used as a last resort and should remain securely holstered in the cockpit.
In addition to the legal implications, the incident has had repercussions for Dunn’s military career. As an Air Force Reserve lieutenant colonel, Dunn had been stripped of his previous position due to his refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The Air Force has suspended his access to sensitive information and the air operations center in response to the midflight altercation.
This case is not isolated, as it comes just days after another off-duty pilot attempted to shut off the engine of a Horizon Air jet while suffering from depression and under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms. These incidents raise concerns about the mental well-being and behavior of pilots and their access to sensitive airplane systems.
Dunn’s trial is scheduled for March 12, and he has been instructed to surrender his passport and any firearms. Until then, he must remain at his current residence and is prohibited from accessing firearms or contacting any witnesses in the case.
It is crucial for the aviation industry to address and prevent such incidents in order to ensure the safety of passengers and crew members.