Pilots of wayward jet lose licenses

27 Oct

Copied directly from: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/10/27/airliner.fly.by/

Washington (CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration has revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot a Minnesota airport by 150 miles during a 78-minute period of radio silence last week.

Capt. Timothy B. Cheney, 53, and First Officer Richard I. Cole, 54, were piloting Northwest Flight 188 from San Diego, California, to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport Wednesday when air traffic controllers lost radio contact with the Airbus A320 over the Denver, Colorado, area.

“The pilots were out of contact with air traffic controllers for an extended period of time and told federal investigators that they were distracted by a conversation,” the FAA said.

“Air traffic controllers and airline officials repeatedly tried to reach them through radio and data contact, without success.”

Cheney and Cole told investigators they were using personal laptop computers during the flight, in violation of company policy, and lost track of time, the National Transportation Safety Board has said.

The FAA said the revocations cite several violations of regulations, including failure to comply with air traffic control and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The pilots have 10 days to appeal the revocations, which are effective immediately, to the NTSB, the FAA said.

Flight 188 carried 144 passengers, the two pilots and three flight attendants.

Cheney was hired in 1985 and has more than 20,000 hours of flight time, while Cole was hired in 1997 and has about 11,000 hours of flight time, according to an NTSB report released Monday.

Neither pilot reported having had an accident, incident or violation; neither had any ongoing medical conditions; and neither said he was tired, the report 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 a new monthly crew flight scheduling system put into place in after Northwest’s merger with Delta Air Lines.

“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.”

Neither pilot said he was aware of where the plane was until 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, the report said.

After 78 minutes of radio silence, the pilots re-established radio contact with air traffic controllers, according to the report.

After landing at Minneapolis-St. Paul, both voluntarily underwent alcohol breath tests, which proved negative, the report said.



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