How Did Those Northwest Pilots Miss the Airport?

It has been plastered all over the news, but I wanted to wait a little until we had more information on what happened. Now that the NTSB has released its early findings, let’s talk. This is a mess.

You know the story – Northwest 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis decided that Wisconsin was a better destination. Once pilots realized they had gone too far east, they turned around and landed. As far as I’m concerned, the excuses NW 188 via FlightAwaregiven by the pilots seem flimsy at best.

At left, you can see what happened to flight 188 on October 21 thanks to FlightAware. The last radio communication is said to have occurred around 656p Central Time. That would have been about 20 minutes after they started talking to Denver Center (the air traffic control center that controls that patch of airspace). The plane was at 37,000 feet traveling at a roughly 30 degree heading.

There were a couple of slight course corrections but nothing else until 814p when they got back in touch with air traffic control, well past Minneapolis. They then started turning south and at 817p they started descending. Air traffic control made them do some turns to prove they hadn’t been hijacked, and they ended up landing around 9p. So what the heck happened?

Well, these pilots had ample experience, haven’t had any problems before, and weren’t fatigued after a 19 hour layover in San Diego. The pilots insist they weren’t arguing nor sleeping but rather having a heated discussion. That means that for over and hour, the pilots ignored radio calls and attempted contact from their company dispatcher because they were engrossed in this conversation about their new crew scheduling system.

At one point, the pilots pulled out their laptops, apparently to review the new system. Delta says they don’t allow personal laptop use for pilots while flying, so naturally the mainstream media folks have jumped on this as the headline. It shouldn’t be. But could the Laptop for NW Pilotsnew bidding system really have been so exciting to have kept them distracted for over an hour? It’s certainly going to be a complicated topic of discussion, but I find it unconscionable that they would simply forget that they were flying an airplane for that long.

Delta put out a statement on personal laptop use that says:

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.

Sounds like these guys are going to have to fight for their jobs.

I still just can’t believe that for over an hour they failed to respond to any attempts at communication. You could have a live stage show in the cockpit and they still should have heard something to trigger them to actually pay attention for a minute. What did finally bring them back to reality? A flight attendant called up 5 minutes before they were supposed to arrive asking for an estimated time of arrival. That’s when they realized they screwed up.

Even though they were out of contact for over an hour, they didn’t overshoot the airport by that much. The flight the day before was 3:36 while the one the day after was 3:20. This flight took 3:54. I have to assume that had it gone any longer, some sort of fuel warning would have caught their attention . . . or not.

Sadly, we’ll probably never know what happened since the cockpit voice recorder only held 30 minutes of data. It began during final approach, so all the good stuff was missed. We probably won’t know if something else happened instead.

I can’t say this makes me particularly nervous about flying in general, but it definitely makes me think twice about those reinforced cockpit doors. What if these guys had been so engrossed that they failed to answer to any sort of communication attempts? Or what if they both ate the fish? Ted Striker never would have been able to get up there to save the day.


65 Responses to How Did Those Northwest Pilots Miss the Airport?

  1. David SFeastbay says:

    You can sit in your livingroom reading, be on your laptop, or doing a number of other things and loose track of time. But how does one do that in a moving airplane that you should be flying?

    They were either asleep, or that was one engrossing conversation about the new scheduling system. You just spent 19 hours on a layover and couldn’t fine time to go over this.

    Their union will have a hard time fighting to save their jobs since the union is always in your face on how pilots are trained professionals who should be treated like Gods. Well their trained professionals seems to have forgotten they were flying an airplane.

    Doesn’t the FAA have a regulation that if one pilot must leave the cockpit the remaining pilot must put on their oxygen mask for safety? Seems the FAA forgot to include a regulation that when two pilots are in the cockpit at least one of them must be paying attention to flying the airplane, even if the ‘inflatable’ autopilot is on.

    OK everyone if you got Cranky’s ‘both eat fish’ and ‘Ted Striker’, you’ll get ‘inflatable’ pilot……lol

  2. Ben says:

    This is a different type of flying all together…

  3. Johnny Jet says:

    I would fire them

  4. hdawg says:

    correct me if I’m wrong (but regarding the ted striker comedy …), however don’t FA’s have access to the cockpit through a door code sequence … whereas they can get in if the pilots are non-responsive in an emergency situation?

    Perhaps if they had both eaten the fish.

  5. Trent880 says:

    This doesn’t end well for the pilots. I can’t think of any scenario that would make it ok for them to ignore their job for such a period of time.

  6. chris says:

    I think that they were asleep and are just grabbing at straws with the excuse about the laptops. At least “engrossed in work on my laptop” sounds better than saying, “yeah, we dozed off for a while.” I mean, come on, even when I’m deeply engrossed in work on my laptop, I’ll answer the phone. But I might not answer it if I’m taking a nap.

  7. A says:

    Seems most people think these guys were sleeping. I don’t know A320 avionics but from what I’ve heard in the media, there would be an audible as they approached their destination. How could something like that, let alone repeated radio contact, not wake you up, but a call from a FA did? I can for sure believe these guys were asleep, but that deep of a sleep?

    There have been way bigger incidents in the cockpit than sleeping at cruising altitude…or heated discussions if you will. Some famous incidents come to mind…Delta 1141, Eastern 401, etc. All in all I think we’re lucky this didn’t turn out worse and good pilots or not, that’s enough for me to not want them as my pilots.

    Good point on the reinforced cockpit door though…and even better classic movie reference. Got a laugh out of me.

  8. chris.pc says:

    I don’t doubt their story. they screwed up. what I am less sure about is what should happen in this case: fire them for one mistake after a long career (which sounds harsh and unfair) or let it slide with a reprimand (makes me uncomfortable being their next passenger)?

  9. JayB says:

    I’m sure the pilots of the world are holding their sides laughing at us trying to figure out what went on. “If they only knew!”

    One of the joys of flying UA is listening in on Channel 9. I never miss a second, and am always trying to figure out what is going on. Pilots getting the next ATC frequency. even the Center, all wrong. ATC calling an airliner over and over and getting no reponse as you are looking out the window and whoosh, some large aircraft goes racing by. And my favorite, ATC talking to an Air France flight and that pilot acknowledging, in English, with words that bear little semblance of English you or I might understand!

    My suspicion is that piloting in this era of the industry is awfully boring, and things pilots are doing in the cockpit would surprise many of us. Can’t wait ’til we get more details of this NW incident.

  10. Andrew says:

    The first clue to investigators should’ve been when, sometime after midnight, with the plane parked for the evening, the pilot emerged from the cockpit, hat and tie askew, thrust his arms into the air and yawned in a profound stretch; Scratching at an armpit, he exclaimed, “Man! Truly epic nap. Once we got over Nebraska I was just dead to the world…. hey, where is everyone?”

  11. NM says:

    “Joey, have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

  12. Gray says:

    Airplanes have to carry enough fuel for an airport diversion, plus 45 minutes extra minutes extra, in addition. I doubt it the flight had continued “for any longer,” that fuel would’ve been a problem. I think that’s a bit alarmist to mention fuel as an issue.

  13. Meredith says:

    Oh, airplane humor…

    Maybe they were getting it on?!?!

  14. Johnny Jet- It must be nice to be so perfect as to judge others so well. Especially when having only part of the information.

    This will wash itself out appropriately. I will not judge these pilot’s actions as so many are so quick to do. It is very easy to make mistakes in the job. If they were truly disregarding company procedure they will be punished.

    Most pilots never expect to be treated like ‘gods’. We only ask that people realize we are just as prone to making mistakes as any other person in any other career. Our mistakes can lead to injuries, and most of us take that very seriously. But, the system is set up well to catch those mistakes before they cause problems.

    When was the last time you had a week at your job where you over came being a human and were perfect? If these two were acting unprofessionally, and this was the cause of the error, I like most other pilots expect them to be punished. But to base your criticism on partial truths having little knowledge of the work is not appropriate.

  15. #1 Awesome reference to Airplane

    #2 What is really bothering me about the coverage is the “did the tray cause the pilots to miss the airport?” NO NO NO! The pilots caused the pilots to miss the airport. Sleeping, conversation, arguing, playing twister, it doesn’t matter. They have the duty to do their jobs and the safety of the passengers and crew are at stake.

  16. CF says:

    hdawg wrote:

    correct me if I’m wrong (but regarding the ted striker comedy …), however don’t FA’s have access to the cockpit through a door code sequence … whereas they can get in if the pilots are non-responsive in an emergency situation?

    If that’s true, it kind of defeats the purpose. Then a hijacker could get them to open the door, and I thought the point was to make it impenetrable.

    chris wrote:

    I think that they were asleep and are just grabbing at straws with the excuse about the laptops.

    I don’t know. If they were asleep, they’d be better off using that excuse because then they could try to blame the scheduling guys or something along those lines. With this story, they have nobody to blame but themselves, so it does seem plausible to me.

    Gray wrote:

    Airplanes have to carry enough fuel for an airport diversion, plus 45 minutes extra minutes extra, in addition. I doubt it the flight had continued “for any longer,” that fuel would’ve been a problem. I think that’s a bit alarmist to mention fuel as an issue.

    Not the point here. I wasn’t suggesting they were going to run out of fuel immediately – I was just suggesting that perhaps a fuel warning would have been enough to get them out of their daze. I’m not concerned about them running out of gas. My only real concern would have been if they were flying around storms and didn’t get out of the way of a big cumulonimbus.

  17. Wendi says:

    Take away their seniority.

  18. Consumer Mike says:

    Pilots which are entrusted with the lives of passengers have the duty and responsibility to be alert and able to communicate with the ground and other aircraft AT ALL TIMES! There is absolutely no excuse for what these pilots did. This was the second major negative event for Delta in a week. The other was the plane that landed on the taxi-way instead of the runway. Delta needs to tighten up its show before something horrific happens. Screw the union, if any pilot screws up all they are going to do is send regrets!

    Bottom line; terminate the 2 pilots and perhaps the 2 in the other incident. If pilots cannot do the job safely/correctly they need to find another career ASAP! Passenger safety comes first.

  19. Chris says:

    CF wrote:

    hdawg wrote:
    correct me if I’m wrong (but regarding the ted striker comedy …), however don’t FA’s have access to the cockpit through a door code sequence … whereas they can get in if the pilots are non-responsive in an emergency situation?

    If that’s true, it kind of defeats the purpose. Then a hijacker could get them to open the door, and I thought the point was to make it impenetrable.

    @Cranky, HDawg is correct, there is a number sequence for the FA’s to open the door. HOWEVER, there is a 5+ second gap at which point the pilots can lock the door from within the cockpit.

    Take a look at this video from Lucky:
    http://boardingarea.com/blogs/onemileatatime/2009/06/20/wanna-know-how-the-cockpit-door-works/

  20. Allen says:

    While I want to be understanding like Greg, wasn’t the Tenerife disaster essentially caused by an experienced pilot who didn’t have any blemishes on his record making a big mistake? In this case it’s not so much making the mistake but the severity and implications of it.

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  22. BJ says:

    There was some references to ATC trying to call and them not responding for the hour. If their last call was 20 minutes before ATC tried calling them it is possible that they went out of range of the VHF transmitter. As such it would have been quiet on the aircraft selected frequency.
    As for whether they stuffed up because of laptops or sleep – only they know and anything else is conjecture. Give the guys a break cause we all stuff up at some time in our careers. I’d fly with them because they certainly wouldn’t do this again.

  23. David SFeastbay says:

    The FAA has revoked their licenses.

    “””The Federal Aviation Administration said Tuesday the pilots had violated numerous regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.”””

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091027/ap_on_bi_ge/us_northwest_flight_overflown

  24. Consumer Mike says:

    Regarding BJ’s comment, these guys were out of touch with the world for OVER AN HOUR. Sorry, no excuses for that. I really don’t think they can talk their way out of what happened. Passenger lives were at risk.

  25. Steve says:

    Has anyone seen the “flight deck” aka cockpit of a A320? There is no “stick” in front of the pilots. The control of the airplane is via a joystick at the left hand of the captain. What IS available is a TABLETOP! Just perfect for a laptop. Hmm how inviting. If this had been DELTA with WiFi I would have guessed they were “working” the internet, but since it was Northwest that wouldn’t happen.

    I’ll bet they were watching porn. its a lot more interesting than the new crew scheduling program. Just too bad we will never know. Maybe they need to record more than 30 minutes. Some suspect that they flew an extra 30 minutes so the voice recorder WOULD overwrite what they were really doing!

  26. BJ says:

    Mike I agree there are no excuses. However, in our world it seems the easy option is to sack people. I personally would prefer to see companies work on ways to improve deficiencies with staff and work on retention.

  27. Oliver says:

    Today on a United flight: I was the second person to deplane, and the guy in front of me walks by the captain standing in the open cockpit door and says “Hope you had a nice nap.”

    Needless to say, the pilot wasn’t amused (and rightfully so).

    @BJ — I don’t know what ultimately happened on that NW/Delta flight, but I know there are mistakes and then there are MISTAKES. If they really lost situational awareness for over an hour, I wouldn’t consider that a mistake, no matter what the cause.

    So I am curious, what would have happened if the general direction of the plane hadn’t been central Wisconsin, but rather, uh, Washington DC? (as in “overshooting” one of the east coast airports and heading towards the capital). Would the F16s have remained on the ground?

  28. CF says:

    Chris wrote:

    @Cranky, HDawg is correct, there is a number sequence for the FA’s to open the door. HOWEVER, there is a 5+ second gap at which point the pilots can lock the door from within the cockpit.
    Take a look at this video from Lucky:
    http://boardingarea.com/blogs/onemileatatime/2009/06/20/wanna-know-how-the-cockpit-door-works/

    Cool, pretty smart way to handle it. Of course, the flight attendant didn’t need to even try in this case, but it’s good to know that they can if they have to.

    Allen wrote:

    While I want to be understanding like Greg, wasn’t the Tenerife disaster essentially caused by an experienced pilot who didn’t have any blemishes on his record making a big mistake?

    Yes, he was very experienced but he misunderstood and took off without clearance.

    Steve wrote:

    Has anyone seen the “flight deck” aka cockpit of a A320? There is no “stick” in front of the pilots. The control of the airplane is via a joystick at the left hand of the captain. What IS available is a TABLETOP! Just perfect for a laptop. Hmm how inviting. If this had been DELTA with WiFi I would have guessed they were “working” the internet, but since it was Northwest that wouldn’t happen.

    Just because it’s inviting doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. There are plenty of good uses for that tray that are related to the job. Excuses don’t fly here anyway – this lies on the pilots.

    Maybe they need to record more than 30 minutes. Some suspect that they flew an extra 30 minutes so the voice recorder WOULD overwrite what they were really doing!

    Newer ones do record more, but this was an older model. I don’t believe they flew longer for that reason.

  29. rp says:

    Had to be sleep or sex in some form. I’ve heard no reports of medical issues.

  30. Graham says:

    I’ve never gotten over Macho Grande.

  31. dan powers says:

    with over 30,000 thousand hours a big chunk flying a320’s in the usa…from the information I have read….the cabin crew called them 5 minutes prior to landing…which means they had probably just overflown MSP-which due to a overcast could not be seen. 150 miles in a 320 is not that far…about 11-15 minutes depending on speed. so the overshoot was mostly contacting air traffic control, descending, making a 180 degree turn…the other gotcha..is that flying over south dakota, western minnesota…there are very few frequency changes…so had this been in california or the east coast it could have never happened. a delta 767 a few days before this landed on a taxiway in atlanta…which leads me to believe the distractions=stress of merger related issues has a lot to do with this. and yes having a table in front of you instead of a yoke has a lot to do with it. but yes it is similar to the eastern L-1011 in the everglades….someone has to aviate….

  32. I caught the insinuation in your post that mainstream media — not being smart enough to be pilots — don’t know what they’re talking about when covering this story. And to a large degree that’s true. But I do want to remind you that quite a few of us who make our livings in the mainstream media ARE pilots and DO know what we’re talking about and DO have intimate and substantial knowledge about aviation. So my guidance would be to just be careful about sweeping generalizations.

    That said, the “they didn’t overshoot by that much” is wrong. They overshot their destination. But the time between the time they SHOULD have begun a descent profile and the time they stopped arguing/stopped surfing/stopped sleeping is substantially more than that.

    Look, we all know the #1 advice in all of aviation, whether it’s a routine flight or an emergency, “fly the airplane.” These guys didn’t, and we all know what the risk is when pilots don’t. What more is there to say?

  33. Davester says:

    I agree with Meredith and Steve above – suspecting hanky panky or the viewing adult entertainment programming. OTH, maybe one dude was sleeping and the other was engrossed with the scheduling system – plotting his next mileage/flying hours run!

  34. Bob Collins- the mainstream media is smart enough to not be pilots. However, I have yet to see a mainstream media type reporting on aviation that has gotten even a piece of it correct. This includes the private pilots who think they know what is going on, but have no idea.

    The FAA has revoked the license of these two. This might ultimately be the correct decision. However, the speed with which it happened corresponds with news cycles rather than the due diligence provided by the ASAP program. I fear the bureaucrats expedited things to appease the public.

    Within the ASAP program pilots are given the opportunity to tattle on themselves to get the information out there as a lesson learned for all. The report is deliberated over by a three person panel- a representative from the company, a representative from the pilot union, and a representative from the FAA. Generally, 2 out of 3 carries the decision. If they decide to accept the report, certificate action will not be taken. There is a list of no-nos that are never protected though, this incident will likely fall in that list; so no protection. However, there has not been time enough for this process to run its course.

  35. Hi Greg. Thanks for taking the time to write back. When you say “not one piece of it right.” Such as what? What time communication was lost? When a descent should be initiated? What centers handed off to whom and when?

    Granted I’ve seen some stupid, stupid reporting on this and other aviation issues, but when you say things like “haven’t got one piece of it right” and “people who are private pilots … have no idea,” are we talking a factual statement or are we talking hyperbole here. In other words, how do you define “it”? (g)

    I can’t say the speed with which the FAA moved surprises me very much — Lord knows it likes to make examples of pilots.

    If I’d been one of these two guys, I think the first thing I’d have done is hand over my NASA reporting form. (g)

  36. SEAN says:

    Roger roger. What’s are vector Victor.

    Joey, Do you like movies about gladiators?

    I just want to tell you good luck. We’re all counting on you.

    The best laugh out loud film of all time.

    Hanky panky no matter how you spin this. Fire them.

  37. CF says:

    Bob Collins wrote:

    I caught the insinuation in your post that mainstream media — not being smart enough to be pilots — don’t know what they’re talking about when covering this story. And to a large degree that’s true. But I do want to remind you that quite a few of us who make our livings in the mainstream media ARE pilots and DO know what we’re talking about and DO have intimate and substantial knowledge about aviation. So my guidance would be to just be careful about sweeping generalizations.

    I understand what you’re saying, but finding someone in the mainstream media who knows what they’re talking about is an exception rather than the rule. I could have listed all the articles out there which said stupid stuff, but it is easier to just use a sweeping generalization. It may not be fair to the small minority of people like you, but I think most people understand that it isn’t a complete blanket statement.

    That said, the “they didn’t overshoot by that much” is wrong. They overshot their destination. But the time between the time they SHOULD have begun a descent profile and the time they stopped arguing/stopped surfing/stopped sleeping is substantially more than that.
    Look, we all know the #1 advice in all of aviation, whether it’s a routine flight or an emergency, “fly the airplane.” These guys didn’t, and we all know what the risk is when pilots don’t. What more is there to say?

    You’re absolutely right. I wasn’t trying to make a justification here for their actions but rather trying to put the incident in context. I don’t care how much they overshot it, they still overshot it and that’s unacceptable.

    Greg Thomson wrote:

    The FAA has revoked the license of these two. This might ultimately be the correct decision. However, the speed with which it happened corresponds with news cycles rather than the due diligence provided by the ASAP program. I fear the bureaucrats expedited things to appease the public.

    But this wasn’t submitted through the ASAP was it? They broke some serious FAA regulations here and that was easily discoverable without them self-reporting. I don’t see how this impacts the ASAP. I agree, however, that they likely expedited things because of public reaction. The pilots can still appeal, but I can’t imagine that they’ll get their licenses back.

  38. Thanks for the reply, CF. I love the blog! Keep up the great work.

  39. Brett- you are correct that they would not have been sole source, and thus under some ASAP programs would not have been afforded license immunity. In the ASAP program I work under, we would be afforded license immunity so long as it was deemed we didn’t commit one of the deadly sins (even if not sole source). They likely committed one of those sins; so would not receive immunity even under this ASAP program.

    The ASAP report and comity can and does run along side the other investigation. Bob, one of those differences I alluded to, in the 91 world; you would use the NASA report. In the 121 world, it would be the ASAP report (they will usually send a duplicate to NASA as well). But, in this case, even if they are able to keep their license, they can still be terminated from Delta.

    Bob- I am sorry that I over-generalized. Many ‘pilot experts’ the media uses are general aviation pilots. The general aviation world is very different from the air carrier world. The airplanes fly and behave differently, and they have different capabilities. Equivalent experienced GA pilots are no less than their air transport counterparts, but what they do is different. I have written a couple posts on the internet showing some of the differences, but will not link drop on another blog without permission.

    In this particular example, the media’s reaction was quick to judgment on misunderstanding of limited facts. In the case of the descent planning, the distance out we start descents varies considerably. We are always trying to minimize fuel and plan flight idle descents. If we are planning on a downwind leg before turning inbound to the airport, we will start the descent surprisingly close to the airport. Sometimes, there is so much going on up front that the 10 to 15 minutes it took them to overshoot is very little time.

    I did not realize before this event that the license revocation appeal would go to the NTSB. This is a very good thing though as the NTSB is better at taking a long term view and approach than the FAA. If they deem these pilots should not get their license back, I do believe it to be the correct decision.

  40. Danny says:

    The Delta scheduling system can only be accessed online. There is no offline version for it.

    Oh, and flight attendants have a way to access the cockpit. But if I tell you how, I’ll have to kill you.

  41. Oliver says:

    A thought on the general media (of which I am NOT a member of): they can’t possibly be an expert in everything themselves, so their reporting is often vague/wrong even if they do try hard (which they often don’t). And when they rely on experts, it’s probably not always easy to get a good expert. Some news show last weekend had Sully’s first officer (too lazy to look up his name) comment on this incident, and he basically gave some vague comments. Probably didn’t want to speculate, which is the right thing.

    So why is there so little talk about the Delta flight that landed on the taxi way? Some comments from the resident experts (I am just a frequent passenger) on how easy that is to “accomplish” and what the consequences should be?

  42. Jeff Skiles. I heard him on The Takeaway and thought his most interesting comment was “it’s very unusual to have enough extra fuel for a 300 mile diversion.”

    I know airlines don’t like hauling extra fuel around and I realize the minimum is for destination + 45 minutes (it landed an hour late in this case), but I’ll ask the airline pilots on this forum, is Skiles right?

    The most interesting thing I watched was the “they must have been asleep” angle. It started,a ctually, with the Wall St. Journal, who asked the NTSB flak, “could they have been sleeping?” The NTSB guy said, “we’ll investigate thoroughly that that will be one of the questions.” Then the Wall St. Journal Web site runs a piece with a headline, “Federal investigators to determine if pilots were sleeping.”

    And because newspapers STILL drive the media (sorry, TV, you get most of your news agenda from newspapers and you know it) , many picked up on that and started booking “the usual suspects” to rant about work rules and — in many cases — people with an agenda (opposition to the work rules) were only too happy to oblige.

    What a cesspool.

  43. @ Bob Collins:
    As to Skiles comment, I do not have enough knowledge of the Airbus and operations surrounding it to make an accurate comment on what is a normal alternate distance. In the airplane I fly, 300 miles would be far. My employer does encourage our dispatchers to use alternates as close as possible, no matter how impractical, to minimize fuel carried. Example- if we need to use an alternate for SeaTac they will usually file Boeing field (just a few miles away).

    You are correct on the fuel needing to be destination + 45 minutes. If an alternate is required, they must also carry enough fuel to fly to destination then most distant alternate + 45 minutes.

    They may very well have been sleeping. It is surprisingly difficult to stay awake up front. That is one of those things where hopefully a clear picture will emerge. Fatigue is a rampant problem in the industry, though I have no clue if it was a factor in this incident.

  44. Consumer Mike says:

    Many of the on-going comments regarding details of the aircraft, extra fuel, cockpit layout are interesting. However, the point of fact is that the pilots were not doing their job. I don’t care what the reason. Lives were at risk. The same goes for the crew of the Delta flight that landed on a taxiway, as I commented a couple of days ago.

    Don’t loose sight of the trees through the forest.

    The pilots of both aircraft were paid to do a professional job. Taking responsibility for the lives of all those passengers is serious business. Anything less is NOT acceptable. With all the flying hours (experience) the crews had, as well as the familiarity with the aircraft there is no excuse for what occurred. If they want to continue flying as a career might I suggest they look into becoming Flight Attendents.

  45. David SFeastbay says:

    All this talk about the media shouldn’t be surprising that they control public opinion. Anytime something happens to an airplane within minutes CNN is live with some ‘expert’ who will tell everything about what is happening in and with the plane and what the pilots are doing. How would they know what is happening in the plane and what the pilots are doing? They wouldn’t, but CNN and every other network will have their ‘experts’ swaying the public. No one wants to wait to hear what happen, the networks want ratings so they need to have these ‘experts’ so the public will not turn the channel.

    No matter what took place in that cockpit, those pilots showed poor judgement in whatever they were doing. I would think the one thing that gets drilled into a pilots brain over and over is to know what’s going on with the plane, and I think that means paying attention.

    We’ve read/heard that newer cockpit recorders record 2 hours and by a certain date all new planes must have those. Will we now see a new rule where little cameras will be set up in the cockpit to record what the pilots are doing during the entire trip? Homeland Security would back this for ‘security’ reasons.

    And maybe public opinion should matter in a case like this. You wouldn’t want to be in a car with a driver who wasn’t paying attention to the road, so would you want to be on an airplane with pilots who aren’t paying attention?

    We all sit in the plane and really have no idea what is taking place in the cockpit between taking off and landing. I’m sure whatever they were doing has been done millions of times and we’ve never known. It’s just this time it happen towards the end of their trip and it became a media event, after all hearing about Balloon Daddy on TV was getting boring and becoming old news so the media had to jump on something new.

  46. Consumer Mike says:

    In reply to Mr. Feastbay; The issue should not be focused on the news media. Lets focus on what happened and who were the responsible parties.

    News is news. You should not kill the messenger.

  47. matt weber says:

    I’ve read the FAA’s revocation order and I’d like to point out some of the things it says.
    1). According to the FAA, they were out of contact with ATC for 91 minutes. It isn’t clear to me exactly what that means. I.E. did someone actually fail to reach them for that period, or is that the time between the last successful radio communication, and the crew finally contacting Minneapolis Center. The FAA order does clearly show that 51 minutes passed between when the crew as instructed to contact Minneapolis Center, and they actually did so. That would be 400+ miles
    2). According to the FAA, at the time the crew called Minneapolis Center, they were over Eau Claire Wisconsin (EAU), which is actually only 85 miles from MSP. I am unclear about where the 150 mile figure comes from.
    3). The order cites 8 attempts by NW dispatch to contact the crew.
    4).. The revocation order is ‘ugly’, and cites 3 specific FAR violations.

    I don’t see how either of these guys is going to be flying for a US flag carrier ever again. I don’t see them losing their ATP licenses for less than a year, and I cannot see these guys winning either before an Administrative Law Judge (for FAA’s revocation order), or an arbitrator (when they are fired).

  48. A lot of the particulars here I’ve reported on previously so I won’t bother to repeat it here. From time to time I see this reference to Eau Claire. It’s interesting because the flight never went over Eau Claire. At the time the plane actually started changing course — signifying the pilots were back in the game — they were over Ladysmith, Wisconsin, which is about 80 miles away. But a northeasterly course over the top of MSP doesn’t take you over Eau Claire, so that’s a confusing element of the story which keeps popping up.

    The last contact they had was over Kansas. I can’t remember exactly where but it’s on the blog. I believe it’s roughly at the point where Denver hands off to Minneapolis center.

  49. Davester says:

    Here is a quote that we all probably agree on:
    “CoPilot_Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
    Bob Collins wrote:

    […] The last contact they had was over Kansas. I can’t remember exactly where but it’s on the blog. I believe it’s roughly at the point where Denver hands off to Minneapolis center.

  50. Jon says:

    @ Ben:
    “This is a different type of flying.”

  51. yo says:

    “Well, it appears that Scraps is a boy dog!”

    They were dozing, and covering for each other. The union goons will fight any action against them.

    Same same

  52. “Air traffic control made them do some turns to prove they hadn’t been hijacked”

    Hmm, how could ATC communicate this in a way that an experienced pilot, or even someone who had just gotten their instrument rating couldn’t follow and prove that the plane hadn’t been hijacked?

  53. Right. They did that well after they were past the Twin Cities.

    It should be noted that federal authorities have now confirmed pretty much what I was reporting last week — that the significance of the incident is that it revealed that the supposed changes after 9/11 have not led to improved response to security threats (unless you’re flying a small plane that can’t really do any damage, then they’re on you like white on rice.)

    Air traffic controllers repeatedly tried to reach the pilots of the Northwest flight as it continued on course without deviation,” (FAA administrator Randy) Babbitt said in a statement. “The plane followed its filed flight plan, the transponder remained on and the plane did not send any emergency or distress signals. However, the controllers should have notified NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) more quickly that the plane was not responding.”

    This is particularly troubling since it suggests that the head of the FAA believes that the ONLY profile of a terrorist threat is the one that was used on 9/11. Foolhardy, to say the least.

    Meanwhile, today the general in charge of the air defense unit declared flatly that the jets should’ve been launched much earlier and the FAA should’ve notified his people of that.

    That the controllers waited for an hour, until the plane was over Ladysmith, Wisconsin before — apparently — considering the possibility that there was a threat is pretty incompetent, given the billions of dollars and on-the-ground “safeguards” and security legislation this country has gone through in the last 8 years.

    At the end of the day, the nation’s security still depends on a human. That is also it’s primary weakness.

  54. Bob Collins wrote:

    At the end of the day, the nation’s security still depends on a human. That is also it’s primary weakness.

    We’re due for an amazing upgrade in lots of technology with airplanes. I’m surprised that the default mode of communication is analog radios. I think this should always be a backup but I’d think we could do better with something based off of/related to current cell phone technology. If this were the case you could’ve had a computer keeping track of the last transmission from this plane and identifying that they hadn’t received a transmission in x minutes that could then put this on a high level screen with multiple people watching…

  55. micke says:

    what if ? why ? who cares? everyone landed safely and no one was hurt.Why don’t you crunsh on real problems ?
    So the power that be will make an example and severly punish the poor bastards ! why ? is there a real point to this? what will the next pilot be taught by this punishment? don’t what ?
    land safely ?

  56. It depends on what particular angle you don’t recognize the significance. If it’s the one I’ve been concentrating on — a test of our defense systems against terrorism — well, if two wars, significant constitutional restrictions, three thousand dead people, four smoking holes, billions of dollars, and the elimination of any convenience to air travel haven’t led you to see the importance of assessing what that’s all for, nothing anyone writes on a blog is going to.

  57. Consumer Mike says:

    The lesson will not be lost to other pilots that they have a job to do. Lack of attention, dangerous pilot errors or other major safety mistakes are NOT acceptable to the flying public. I can’t belive you ask “who cares?” My thinkinf is that anyone who boards on a flight cares about getting to their destination IN ONE PIECE! Your attitude would allow loose compliance to safety rules to be the norm. UNACCEPTABLE!@ micke:

  58. Micke says:

    Dear Sir,
    everyone WAS in one piece !
    Pilots did goof off.
    THEY will be overly punished.. thanks to your thinking.
    Please do not bring 9/11 to this debate it doesn’t help your rant.

  59. Unfortunately, it was the FAA that brought 9/11 into the discussion by stating their concerns that the plane might have been hijacked.

    It’s a pretty complex story in terms of significance and requires taking the time to familiarize yourself with it.

  60. Consumer Mike says:

    I did not say one word about 9/11 thank you. What I did say was SAFETY FIRST! I am sorry you have a problem with the reprocussions of their failure to do their job properly and professionally.@ Micke:

  61. Oliver says:

    @Micke I guess as long as they don’t get caught crashing into you, you’re also okay with motorists driving recklessly and/or drunk. After all, if they didn’t hurt you, no harm was done. Right?

  62. JACK says:

    Maybe they were diddling one of the ladies

  63. Frank says:

    @ Oliver:
    It doesn’t matter where they were headed. Jets were scrambled after Payne Stewart’s plane when they couldn’t be contacted and they were over nowhere in the Midwest. The fact that a big ass commercial airplane was unable to be contacted after 13 attempts by ATC, and that no jets were scrambled after it, makes me very suspicious that there is something VERY different about this incident. We the public have no idea. And those that know aren’t telling.

  64. bmed says:

    UFO. They saw it, perhaps were controlled by it. The F-16s were scrambled and witnessed it. These unlucky pilots are taking the fall for a Govey coverup.

  65. jerome says:

    You Know that anythings that have do with Airlines is BIG news and all the news and TV are all over it.These pilot are very experience.
    Furthermore for a Pilot to be checked out to fly a A320 YOU must be very very experience and show your competience. I think that these two pilots should be reprimand.From a privet pilot with friends that fly this type of plan is not easy, if you would know what they have to do for the safty of you and the plane it would drive you crazy.

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