Tuesday, October 27, 2009

FAA revokes licenses of Northwest Airlines 'laptop pilots'

by B. N. Sullivan

FAA logoThe U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has revoked the licenses of the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis in an Airbus A320 after having been out of radio contact with the ground for a period of time. The incident happened on October 21, 2009 during a flight from San Diego to Minneapolis.

In a brief press release issued this morning, the FAA said, in part:
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. Air traffic controllers and airline officials repeatedly tried to reach them through radio and data contact, without success.

The emergency revocations cite violations of a number of Federal Aviation Regulations. Those include failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The revocations are effective immediately. The pilots have 10 days to appeal the emergency revocations to the National Transportation Safety Board.
Yesterday the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) revealed that the pilots said in interviews that, during the flight, they had been using their personal laptop computers while discussing airline crew flight scheduling procedures, and that this had caused them to be distracted.

Delta Air Lines, which owns Northwest Airlines, indicated yesterday that "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."

UPDATE Nov. 5, 2009: The two pilots involved in the Northwestern Flight 188 incident have filed appeals with the NTSB regarding the revocation of their licenses. They now face a hearing before a judge within the next 120 days.