Muslim Pilot Says He Was Denied Training

     LAS VEGAS (CN) – Pan Am International Flight Academy refused to let a pilot use a flight simulator because he is Muslim and reported him to the FBI, the commercial pilot claims in court.
     Khalifa Derenkai sued the Las Vegas-based school on Wednesday in Federal Court. The school is the only defendant.
     Derenkai says he immigrated to the United States from Eritrea in 1987 and worked for foreign airlines for years as a commercial pilot. Through the Utah Department of Workforce Services, he sought training from Pan Am to get a domestic commercial pilot’s license.
     Derenkai says he was scheduled for flight simulator training in March 2014, but Pan Am school manager Phil Spessard looked up his LinkedIn profile and denied him access to a flight simulator.
     Two flight instructors made him take a written exam, which was not mentioned in school documents, and told him he missed a qualifying score by 2 points, Derenkai says.
     He claims that the exam is “not part of any known FAA or pilot certification requirement,” and that after he completed it, agents from the FBI Terrorism Task Force arrived and questioned him for about 30 minutes.
     Derenkai says two flight instructors asked him if he was Muslim and laughed when he told them that he knew the Spessard was responsible for the “unfair treatment” he had received.
     Derenkai filed a complaint with Utah’s Department of Workforce Services, who investigated. He claims the DWS investigators told him that Spessard “had discovered that Khalifa was a member of ‘some Islamic or Muslim Honor of Muhammad, and that just sent up red flags.'”
     Spessard told the DWS that Derenkai “‘looked suspicious'” and was wary because of his former job flying for a Saudi airline and his African origins, Derenkai says.
     The FBI told DWS “that they had no concerns with Khalifa nor his background and that there was nothing that should prevent him from receiving his pilot’s certification and becoming employed as a commercial U.S. pilot.” The director of Utah DWS then issued “final written administrative decision concluding that Khalifa had experienced illegal discrimination by Pan Am,” according to the complaint.
     Derenkai seeks $400,000 in compensatory damages and punitive damages for discrimination.
     He is represented by Ryan Anderson with Morris Anderson.
     Pan Am officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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