Pilots Who Overshot Destination Blame Controllers
The Northwest Airlines pilots who flew their jet past their destination city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, on October 21 have blamed air traffic controllers for the snafu.
In separate responses to the administrative law judge handling their case, Capt. Timothy B. Cheney, 53, of Gig Harbor, Washington, and First Officer Richard I. Cole, 54, say air traffic control rules weren’t followed, which contributed to the incident.
“The air traffic controller(s) did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident,” they said. The responses were filed November 24, but made public Monday.
“Since this is the subject of an ongoing legal process, we can’t comment,” said Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the Federal Aviation Administration. The pilots are appealing the revocation of their licenses by the FAA.
The National Transportation Safety Board has reported that the pilots told investigators they used personal laptop computers during the flight, in violation of company policy, and lost track of time.
The men said they became aware of their plane’s position only after a flight attendant asked about the landing time.
The Airbus A320 was flying at 37,000 feet over the Denver, Colorado, area at 5:56 p.m. when air traffic controllers lost radio contact for more than an hour, the NTSB said in a report.
Northwest Flight 188 had departed San Diego, California, en route to Minnesota carrying 144 passengers, the two pilots and three flight attendants.
“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,” said a statement from Delta Air Lines, which recently merged with Northwest.
Cheney was hired in 1985 and has more than 20,000 hours flight time, while Cole was hired in 1997 and has about 11,000 hours of flight time, the NTSB report said.
Neither pilot reported having had an accident, incident or violation, neither had any ongoing medical conditions, and neither said he was tired, it said.
They each had had a 19-hour layover in San Diego; neither said he had slept or argued during the flight, but both said “there was a distraction” in the cockpit, according to the report.
The pilots said there was “a concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or calls” from air traffic control, though both said they heard conversation on the radio, the report said.
Neither pilot said he noticed messages sent by company dispatchers, it added. It said the men were talking about the new monthly crew flight scheduling system put into place after the Northwest-Delta merger.
“Each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop computer while they discussed the airline crew flight scheduling procedure,” the report said. “The first officer, who was more familiar with the procedure, was providing instruction to the captain.”
Both pilots said a flight attendant called the cockpit about five minutes before the plane was to have landed and asked their estimated time of arrival, the report said. “The captain said, at that point, he looked at his primary flight display for an ETA and realized that they had passed” the airport, it added.
After landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul, both voluntarily underwent alcohol breath tests, which were negative, the report said.