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Injured Pilot Calls Brazilian Planes Unsafe

SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) - After a Brazilian plane crashed in Arizona, a pilot claims in court, he was "chided and demeaned" and fired for blowing the whistle on the plane's "awful braking system."

Colin W. Yates sued Superior Air Charter dba Jetsuite Air, its CEO Alexander Wilcox and vice president Brian Coulter on April 8 in Orange County Superior Court.

Jetsuite hired Yates in 2011 promoted him to captain in 2012. It was one of the first U.S. companies to buy Embraer's Phenom 100 jet, which seats four passengers and two pilots, Yates says in the complaint.

He says Jetsuite bought 13 Phenom planes for $4 million apiece between 2009 and 2102.

In 2011, while serving as first officer, Yates was involved in a Phenom crash during training in Sedona, Ariz. He claims that as the plane landed, the captain applied the brakes but could not maintain directional control. The plane veered off the runway and continued downhill about 300 feet. Four passengers, Yates and the captain were forced to evacuate, Yates says.

He says he suffered multiple spinal fractures, which still hurt.

A National Transportation Safety Board accident report in 2013 found the Phenom was traveling at 124 knots when it crossed 50 feet aboveground, that the plane touched down at 117 knots, and the airport runway slope was 1.9 percent, according to the complaint.

Yates claims that an investigator using "Opera" simulation software calculate the plane's landing distance and determined that the Phenom required 5,624 feet of runway to come to a complete stop, nearly 500 feet longer than Sedona's 5,132-foot runway.

Pilots, however, rely on an air flight manual and quick reference handbook to determine the Phenom's landing distance, Yates says. He says he read the NTSB report the day after it was issued, and also reviewed the Phenom's flight manual and handbook.

"Deeply concerned," Yates says, he told the investigator in an email that the flight manual and handbook were "untrustworthy and might result in serious miscalculations of safe landing distances."

Yates says he also made other safety-related complaints, particularly, that Phenom planes should not fly to airports like Sedona's because of its "awful braking system."

He claims that CEO Wilcox "severely reprimanded" him in response, and said that that Embraer's management was "furious at his disclosure."

Yates claims Wilcox accused him of damaging Jetsuite's relationship with Embraer, and said that Yates "should consider Jetsuite's employees and investors before raising safety concerns."

He was suspended with pay, then at a meeting a few days later Wilcox and Coulter "chided and demeaned" him for sending the email and tried to refute his calculation of the landing distance "in an effort to have him retract his complaint," he says.

Because he reiterated the safety issues, Wilcox and Coulter fired him "for cause" when the meeting ended, Yates says.

Yates claims that Phenom planes have been involved in a number of accidents and incidents, including a 2014 crash in Gaithersburg, Md. that killed a mother and her two children when a Phenom crashed into their house a mile short of Montgomery County Airpark. Three onboard also died.

Requests for comment were not returned by press time.

Yates seeks punitive damage for wrongful termination, unfair competition and emotional distress.

He is represented by George Shohet of Venice.

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