Monday, October 26, 2009

The Pilots' Top 10 List: Why We Missed Minneapolis

[Updated with statement from Delta Air Lines at bottom]

The two Northwest/Delta pilots who overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles last week claim they were busy working out crew schedule procedures on their laptops and 1. Didn't notice that they they had failed to descend to the destination airport for over an hour and 2. Failed to hear increasingly anxious calls from air-traffic control centers.

Since the old cockpit voice recorder in the Northwest A320 only records the most recent 30 minutes of a cockpit conversation, we may never know. As I said the other day, a good cop asking questions and matching up stories would have cracked this case by the end of the baseball game on Wednesday night.

Other pilots are having a good guffaw over it all, and I don't think the laptop explanation is flying.

Here's a link to the always informative and amusing JetWhine blog edited by Rob Mark, a pilot and aviation consultant. Rob has posted his Top 10 reasons the pilots overflew Minneapolis by 150 miles, while noting that "the only reason we can even poke a little fun at these two buffoons is no one was hurt."

In comments, Rob's readers added a few of their own "reasons," including: Pilots were planning a reality-show audition ... Pilots wanted to boost passengers' frequent flier miles ... Pilots took the term "nonstop flight" too seriously.

Me: The foliage in Wisconsin is lovely this time of year ... MSP means Must-Skip Place ...


Delta evidently isn't buying the laptop excuse either. Here is a statement Delta issued late this afternoon:

"ATLANTA, Oct. 26 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Delta Air Lines today issued a statement regarding the company's cooperation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the investigation of Northwest Flight 188. Delta and its Northwest operating subsidiary continue to openly and fully cooperate with the NTSB and FAA to complete the investigation. The pilots in command of Northwest Flight 188 remain suspended until the conclusion of the investigations into this incident.

"Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight-deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination.

"Delta CEO Richard Anderson said: 'Nothing is more important to Delta than safety. We are going to continue to cooperate fully with the NTSB and the FAA in their investigations.'

"The NTSB earlier today issued a public release highlighting the initial findings of its investigation into the incident, including evidence that the pilots involved said they were distracted at cruise altitude between San Diego and Minneapolis-St. Paul. The NTSB's press release stated that the pilots said in interviews that "there was a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls from ATC even though both stated they heard conversation on the radio ... neither pilot noticed messages that were sent by company dispatchers ... both said they lost track of time ... (and) each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure."



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