Muslim Pilot: Bad Guy or Discrimination?


Well-Known Member

Frank Nickman, formerly Farzin Nikmanesh, knew he would be your devil the moment he stepped back into the terminal in Farmington, New Mexico, the morning of September 11, 2001. He looked at the televisions; he looked at the drained white faces beneath them. Ah, this is why we were ordered to land immediately. Some guys who look like me flying the planes I want to fly just murdered thousands of Americans.

"My first thought was everybody else's thought: Oh my God, this is terrible,'" Nickman says. "Then the other realization began to sink in: This is the end of everything I have worked so hard for. As of today, I am finished.'"

Since emigrating from Iran in 1989, Nickman's American dream was to be a commercial airline pilot. It was an expensive dream. In 2000, he and his wife sold off their insurance business and house in California to pursue it. In January of 2001, he entered Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group's intensive two-year pilot training program, which is at San Juan College in Farmington. By the time he graduated with honors in 2002, he had spent $60,000.

By early 2003, he was the only member of his 29-member graduating class who wasn't offered a first-officer job with Mesa.

Indeed, it appears that no student with Nickman's level of academic success in the Mesa Air Group program has ever been denied a job by the company. And Mesa Air Group clearly sells the program -- and its high price -- with assurances that a job is waiting upon graduation. The company's Web site proudly professes, for example, that 98 percent of those who have been through the program have been hired by the company.

But not Frank Nickman, even though Nickman arguably was Mesa's best student ever.

In May 2002, because of his stellar academic and community service record, Nickman was picked by San Juan College to speak at graduation. He was the first pilot from the flight college to be given that honor in 10 years.

Besides making the San Juan honor roll each semester, Nickman volunteered for three semesters at the college library, the San Juan Regional Medical Center and the local Civil Air Patrol. Before enrolling, he already had 60 aviation-related credit hours from Orange Coast College in California, where one of his professors called Nickman "one of the best and the most highly motivated students I've ever had."

Although it wasn't required, Nickman took the FAA Airline Transport Pilot exam before his job interviews with Mesa. He scored a perfect 100, rare for a student pilot.

Yes, he was that stereotypical Middle Eastern super-student geek (the other stereotype of young Middle Eastern men). He knew he had to be. He knew he had to be so good that Mesa could find no legitimate reason not to hire him.

Still, after three lengthy interviews (all other students were hired after one interview), after an extensive post-9/11 investigation of his past by the FBI that proved him to be squeaky-clean and a vehemently pro-American U.S. citizen, Mesa didn't hire him. They gave him no explanation.

I would guess that's because the only plausible explanation for their action is that airline officials don't want an Arab-looking pilot scaring the :bleep::bleep::bleep::bleep: out of their passengers. That makes them guilty of violating Nickman's civil rights. Under federal civil rights laws, a company cannot discriminate based on a fear that its customers might not like being served by certain races of people.

Now, Nickman has sued Mesa to recover his expenses. He can't seek employment elsewhere because other airlines require more flight hours than the Mesa program provides. He also has filed grievances with the EEOC office in Phoenix and the U.S. Department of Education.

Mesa Air Group officials did not respond to New Times requests to discuss Nickman's case.

So, Frank and I will have to defend Mesa execs ourselves.

We both understand they were placed in an extremely difficult position. They are, perhaps more than any defendant I've ever seen in a case of discrimination, sympathetic racists.

If you ran an airline, would you employ a Middle Eastern pilot in post-9/11 America? What would your passengers do?

But wanting to avoid problems is one thing.

Following the law is another. And it's the law that is the backbone of Nickman's very strong legal case.

Civil rights laws of the 1960s clarified and better codified the country's founding principles regarding what America should be.

That's what's really eating Frank Nickman. He feels duped. He came to America because, like 99.9 percent of Middle Eastern men who leave home on student visas, he believed all that Horatio Alger crap. But when he did absolutely everything humanly possible to live the American success story, Mesa Air Group played by a much more common American principle -- expedience.

Here's Frank's backstory. Mesa execs already know it. The FBI checked it out and issued a lengthy report clearing him. I've read it. It's all properly documented, properly checked out. Certainly more so than my own.

Nikmanesh grew up in Tehran, the son of an Iranian airline flight attendant. His father always wanted to fly the plane, to be the well-paid respected guy up front in the suit. But in the process of raising a family through the tumultuous '70s and '80s -- the fall of the Shah, the protracted blood bath with Saddam -- his dad never got around to it.

Nikmanesh's older brothers and sisters left Tehran for the United States through the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, a war that killed many of the family's friends. In 1989, at age 21, after serving the required two years in the Iranian army as a military policeman, Nikmanesh himself immigrated to America. His ultimate goal was to be the pilot his father longed to be, and longed for his son to be.

"It was his unrealized dream for 50 years," says Nickman, who Americanized his name upon arrival here. "I absorbed that dream. It became mine for both me and him."

He immersed himself in English. He latched onto a family member in the insurance business. By 1994, he was a licensed insurance agent in Orange County for Farmers Insurance Group, the nation's third largest insurance company.

In 1998, he enrolled in aviation night classes at Orange Coast College.

By 2000, Nickman and his Iranian-born wife, Zohreh Saidali, also a naturalized U.S. citizen, owned a Farmers Insurance Group office of their own. They were making good money and had bought a house.

But Nickman's itch to fly had grown too strong. He began researching the commercial airline market. He began researching schools. With so many of the old Vietnam-era military pilots retiring, and a dearth of new pilots with military experience, it was a good time for a civilian to pursue a flying career.

Mesa's relatively short but intensive course, with the promise of a job at the end of the two-year training, seemed the smartest path.

So the Nickmans sold the insurance office, sold the house and headed for northwestern New Mexico.

For the first year and a half, life at the Mesa Air Group school was fairly normal for Nickman. His fellow students were civil, their jokes taken in good humor because most were intended with good humor.

It was all civil discourse until Nickman reentered the Farmington concourse that September morning. When he saw people look at him, he knew he was in trouble, particularly in Farmington, which, outside the college, has a culture dominated by white, truck-drivin' all-American oil-field workers.

"I genuinely feared for my life and my wife's life," he says. "Vicious calls were already coming in that afternoon. We were just ready to give up. We were going to head back to California where it seemed safer."

So Nickman didn't show up to class for several days. That raised further suspicion. The rumor mill churned at the college.

In a few days, Nickman regained his head. He had done nothing wrong. He had only done things right. He knew it would be tough, but he steeled himself and returned to college.

The hatred, though, was much stronger and more overt than he imagined it would be. And he did not expect so much to come from, and be tolerated by, Mesa Air Group instructors and administrators.

His lawsuit documents a disturbing litany of abuses and tolerance for those abuses.

"You tell yourself each day to face everything with absolute dignity," he says. "But you are also human. I just don't think the average American knows what it feels like to be treated like a demon."

He was no longer Frank Nickman. He was constantly referred to as "that Arab pilot," according to the lawsuit.

When Nickman explained to one instructor that he was not Arab, Nickman says his reply was: "You're all ragheads."

When Nickman flew on training flights, he says his accent was mocked over the radio. He heard mocking shouts of "Allahu Akbar" over the radio.

The college's chief flight instructor told Nickman to just let the insults "roll off your back for a while."

"Go back to wherever you came from."

"You should be glad we let you live in this country."

"What cave have you been hiding in?"

"If you don't get hired by Mesa, you can always train to be a terrorist."

"The Osama bin Laden Scholarship Fund is paying for your training."

Fellow students gave Nickman the nickname of "terrorist in training." In front of fellow students, he says, instructors grilled him about whether he'd been "interviewed by the FBI yet," what his "real name was," where he "was really from," whether he was a practicing Muslim.

He was interviewed by the FBI beginning in late September. Their questions were blunt, extensive and extremely intrusive, Nickman says. But Nickman says he understood why they had to do it.

"They were very civil considering the job they had to do," he says.

The FBI's report on Nickman found nothing in his past to suggest extremist ties or beliefs. But that didn't stop the slurs. He was mocked up to the day he left in May 2002.

He interviewed with Mesa officials in Phoenix that summer. They called him back to Phoenix for a second interview. Then a third. Finally, he was told that although he was well qualified, Mesa had chosen not to hire him.

"I was just crushed," he says. "Here I had gone and sold off my family's future for this dream of mine and it had all been this giant waste of time and money. It wasn't only anger and frustration. I had betrayed my family by being stupid enough to try this."

He found a job as a night manager at a convenience store. Besides having drained his own savings, he had to borrow from family. He has loans to pay. If it ever happens, it will be years before he's back to the financial stability he gave up to attend the Mesa flight school.

"I don't know if I can do it," he says. "Before, I was running on this wholehearted belief in all that American dream stuff. It's an odd feeling when that disappears. It's as if someone close to you has died."

The problem for Mesa is that Nickman did more than dream. He worked his ass off and succeeded to the extent their denial of him can be traced to only one plausible, illegal motivation.

The solutions to this mess are clear.

Mesa Air Group should hire Frank Nickman. The company could market him to America's frequent fliers as proof it won't give in to terrorists or the blind racism they foster.

More likely, Mesa Air Group will have to pay Frank Nickman back for all the money he wasted believing the sales pitches.


Well-Known Member
So what do you guys think?

It seems this guy stood out of his class academically, did good at the Mesa interview (went to interview three times, if he had blown it, why call him three times to interview), and seemed well qualified.

Regardless of what the true reason was for not getting hired, could you at least agree that there was a SEVERE LACK of professionalism among his MAPD instructors in Farmington?

Those bolded, italics quotes are pretty disturbing. I guess my point is if you are dealing with a pilot, unless you're sure a middle eastern type guy is a terrorist, and a complete douch*bag, don't become unprofessional and verbally abuse the person.


Well-Known Member
You can read a lot on Mesahub about Frank.

He did not make himself popular with the other pilots.

Most of the comments he is attributing to instructors are made up, according to Mesahub.


Well-Known Member
Mr_Creepy said:
You can read a lot on Mesahub about Frank.

He did not make himself popular with the other pilots.

Most of the comments he is attributing to instructors are made up, according to Mesahub.
Did not make himself popular with other pilots, was this before or after?

By before meaning while he was at MAPD in Farmington, or after, meaning once he was denied for getting hired as F/O ???

Mesahub forums finds no hits for "Frank Nickman."

Got a link ?


Well-Known Member
jayllamas said:
People are not born terrorists...but things like these do create them.
So you're saying not getting a job at Mesa will lead this guy to Al Qaeda?

Do you also believe that Hitler not getting into Art School directly affected his rise to power?


Well-Known Member
I think he means this is why so many foreign people hate us;)

Racial/Cultural discrimination/Prejudice is one of the things I hate the most about society, and it is just as rampant here.

The truth of the matter is that it is intolerable if proven in court. MESA will pay back much more than $60k if he has enough proof. Then he'll be able to buy his own air charter company;)


Staff member
For some interesting reading, try wading through the judge's decision on the case:
Frank Farzin Nickman vs Mesa Air Group

16 pages of summary, but it will give at least some of the other side of the story.

By the way, the original story was published Dec 11, 2003. The judge's decision that I have linked above is dated Dec 20, 2004. I do not know if there are any other cases pending on this matter.


Staff member
Here is a letter to the editor published in that same paper, from a former Mesa captain, on Jan 01, 2004:
Promises, promises:
I am writing to provide you some background information regarding Mesa Airlines, its hiring practices, and the composition of its pilot group and corporate structure ("Unfriendly Skies," Robert Nelson, December 11). These items might have already been apparent to you had you done some investigation of your own beyond merely interviewing Mr. Frank Nickman. As a former captain for Mesa Airlines, I am happy to provide you with the information that, if included in your story, would have given your piece some semblance of credibility.

While you mention several times in your column that Mesa Airlines "promises [sic] a job" upon graduation, that is in fact not true. You allude to the truth elsewhere in the piece. Mesa Airlines promises an interview to successful graduates. Nowhere does it promise a job. In Mr. Nickman's case, he received three such interviews. You propose this treatment was due in part to company officials looking for a reason not to hire Mr. Nickman. I, however, believe that they were looking for any way possible to hire him. It was only after three unsuccessful personal interviews with different interview groups that the decision was made not to hire Mr. Nickman. I believe that he was given these opportunities because of how good he looked on paper. I know that if I, and others that I know, had a less than adequate first interview, we wouldn't have been offered a second, or even third, chance. The Mesa Pilot Development Program relies on its success rate in providing qualified applicants to Mesa Airlines. They advertise a 98 percent success rate in achieving this objective. Any fifth grader can tell you that 98 percent means not everyone gets hired. Mr. Nickman is neither the first nor the last to not make the cut. The airline receives no benefits from purposely lowering its success rate. The idea that "airline officials don't want an Arab-looking pilot scaring the hell out of their passengers" is also another poor attempt to arouse the fears that passengers felt after 9/11. I flew with several Arab pilots in the post-9/11 climate, and while they sometimes see the strange looks and endure longer screenings at airport security checkpoints, they have never felt that a passenger refused to fly on a flight on which they were crew members.

While Mr. Nickman scored well academically, as a current airline pilot I can assure you that there are many more important facets that compose the "perfect pilot-in-training." A pilot must possess the knowledge, skill and personality traits necessary to ensure the safety of the aircraft, passengers and crew. While earning a 100 percent on the Airline Transport Pilot written exam is worth a pat on the back, it does not guarantee that a pilot candidate will pass muster when it comes to piloting skill or making the right judgment call when under pressure. Likewise, Mr. Nickman's academic scores while attending San Juan College are not an accurate measure of his ability to operate a commercial aircraft. If simply paying $50,000 assured your success in a given field, then by all means, sign me up for the "Bill Gates Microsoft CEO Training Program."

Neither you nor I was present for any of Mr. Nickman's interviews, so to solely base your column on what you have been told by Mr. Nickman is, in my opinion, shoddy journalism. Perhaps the most telling, yet unreported, fact is that while Mr. Nickman was in flight training in Farmington, New Mexico, Mesa Airlines' chief pilot (airline speak for a management pilot to whom all other pilots directly report) was in fact none other than an Afghani. This pilot has since moved into an even higher level management position within the company. I find it hard to substantiate the claim that Mesa Airlines discriminated against an Iranian-born citizen because of his national origin and/or religion, when during the same time frame, it promoted a Middle Eastern pilot to the top pilot position within the company. How do you explain that, Mr. Nelson?

While I am sorry that Mr. Nickman suffered the hardships associated with putting all of his life savings, his time, and his efforts into something that he loves to do, becoming an airline pilot isn't a job for everyone. I wish him the best of luck in finding a career that better suits him; perhaps something in the legal field?
Things are seldom as they seem on first viewing, especially when one only hears one side of a story.



Well-Known Member
LoadMasterC141 said:
I think he means this is why so many foreign people hate us;)

Racial/Cultural discrimination/Prejudice is one of the things I hate the most about society, and it is just as rampant here.
I'd venture to say the US is one of the less racist/discriminatory/prejudiced country in the US. See the soccer thread about some of the things that go on in Europe.


Well-Known Member

Check this out:

By contrast, Complainant has not shown that he was qualified for the job for which he applied. According to the un-rebutted evidence submitted by Respondent, applicants for a position
as pilot with Mesa Airlines are interviewed by a Pilot Interview Board which consists of an experienced Captain and First Officer.

Among the most important attributes evaluated by the Pilot Interview Board are the ability to demonstrate a strong
understanding of Cockpit Resource Management skills and a complete grasp of commercial flying procedures and protocols.

On February 27, 2003, Nickman was interviewed by Captain Todd
Clark and First Officer Jason Sturges, who served on the Pilot Interview Board. Clark and Sturges stated that they were concerned by Nickman’s failure to maintain proficiency in his instrument flying since his graduation date.

They explained that in the airline industry, “currency”
refers to an individual’s legal ability as determined by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to undertake a particular flight activity, while “proficiency” refers to maintaining those skills
required to safely and efficiently undertake a given task.

They were further troubled by Nickman’s responses to Crew Resource Management hypothetical situations.
For example, in response to a question designed to force a First Officer to take control of a potentially unsafe situation initiated by the Captain, instead of taking control Nickman responded
that he would not have taken action because “the Captain is God.”

Subsequently, in response to technical flight questions, Nickman provided inappropriate responses to questions regarding an approach briefing despite that fact that he had been provided an approach plate containing all of the information necessary to respond to the questions. Based on this interview and their conversation with each other, Clark and Sturges recommended against offering Nickman a position with Mesa.

Mesa’s Certificate Chief Pilot Captain Steven Cristl, and Captain and Vice President of Flight Operations Mickey Moman also jointly interviewed Nickman. Although the date of the interview is not stated, the affidavits indicate that it occurred after Nickman’s February 27, 2003, interview by the Pilot Interview Board. Captains Cristl and Moman explained that occasionally they will interview candidates not recommended by the Pilot Interview Board.
In accord with Clark and Sturges, both Cristl and Moman expressed their dismay with Nickman’s failure to maintain proficiency in his instrument flying.

During the interview, Nickman acknowledged that
he did not consider himself to be proficient in his instrument flying, and both Cristl and Moman were particularly concerned by this admission.

They also found that Nickman’s responses to many of their questions were vague, insufficient or contradictory.

Based on their interview with Nickman and their joint discussion, Cristl and Moman jointly concurred with the Pilot Interview Board and declined to offer Nickman a position with Mesa. The affidavits by Clark, Sturges, Cristl and Moman raise serious doubts about
Nickman’s qualifications for a position as a pilot at Mesa.
I recognize that, unlike written tests or other objective criteria, interviews are somewhat subjective. However, Nickman’s application was not rejected based on one interview with one

Instead, he was interviewed on two separate occasions by a total of four people, some of whom were very senior captains, who agreed that he was not qualified for instrument flying.
interviewers clearly are experienced, knowledgeable pilots. The Pilot Interview Board, which conducted the first interview, consisted of a captain and a first officer, who stated that they interview many applicants for pilot positions with Mesa Airlines.

Moreover, Mesa did not base its decision only on the initial Pilot Interview Board’s interview. Nickman later was interviewed by Captain Moman, who is Vice President of Flight Operations, and Captain Christl, who is Certificate Chief Pilot.

After conducting their interview, they concurred with the Board’s
decision and declined to offer Nickman a position as first officer.

All four interviewers were concerned by Nickman’s failure to maintain proficiency in his instrument flying.


Well-Known Member
So this guy blows his intervew not once, not twice, but three times!

He admits his instrument skills aren't up to proficiency, can't brief an approach plate, and states he'd never take the airplane from the captain because the "Captain is God?"

What a nutcase!

No wonder he didn't get the job.

Suddenly, I don't feel anything for this guy anymore.

Now a part of me wonders if he actually knew he blew the interviews, wasn't gonna get hired, and then sued thinking he might stand a chance by using the race card!

Glad this guy lost!


Well-Known Member
I guess he did not have much proof:)

Yes I agree racism is not as rampant as some parts of the world, but it is still here.


Well-Known Member
Based on the judge's findings, it doesn't look like discrimination. It looks like a lack of competence.

Having said that, if ANY of the racial slurs are true, it's disgusting.


Well-Known Member
Mr_Creepy said:
You can read a lot on Mesahub about Frank.

He did not make himself popular with the other pilots.

Most of the comments he is attributing to instructors are made up, according to Mesahub.
BS, of course they say this, probably because this guy works harder then all of them to become nothing at the end, because of people like them. Do you really expect for them to agree that they call them all of this!

He should sue the crap out of the Airline, hopefully this will give the airline a bad image, because they deserve it for acting in such a way.

Their program is crap already anyways! This can only makes it crappier.


Well-Known Member
NW004 said:
Their program is crap already anyways!
...says the guy who probably hasn't ever met someone that went through the program. There were some really sharp pilots there. <15 hrs TT to solo an A36...

(gosh I really can't believe I'm defending MAG...)

The program is good. The premise is good. The application of it blows, IMO.

Also, after knowing some of the people who weren't hired, there simply is no rhyme or reason to the hiring process anywhere. Why did Chautauqua never call me, but 15+ other regionals did? Who knows...that's the way it is. People will often blame others for their own problems.


New Member
SteveC said:
As is usually the case, the "truth" is probably somewhere in the middle.

Exactly, The guy is probably exagerating his charges and the interviewers are probably exagerating his incompetence. IF, and notice IF, Mesa decided they didn't want to hire him based on his ethnic background, the last two interviews probably were to just to dig up any incompetence in him and cover Mesa's ass, cause I'm sure they knew the lawsuit was coming.