Cynical Synapse

Sat, 24 Oct 2009

Northwest Pilots Can’t Find Minneapolis Hub

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Safety, Technology, Travel — Tags: , — cynicalsynapse @ 4:27 pm

They must not have remembered to turn on their GPS. The October 21st Northwest Airlines flight 188 flew right past Minneapolis, one of three Northwest hubs. The pilots didn’t realize their mistake for 45 minutes, traveling 150 miles further, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They also failed to answer radio calls for an hour and twenty minutes. The Airbus A320 reached Minneapolis (MSP) without further incident and was met by the FBI and airport police.

According to a National Safety Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statement, MSP Center air traffic controllers “reportedly stated that the crew had become distracted”. Delta, which owns Northwest, has put the pilots on administrative leave pending their own investigation as well as the NTSB’s. The NTSB statement added:

According to the Federal Administration (FAA) the crew was interviewed by the FBI and airport police. The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness. The Safety Board is scheduling an interview with the crew.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) have been secured and are being sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, DC.

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Flight 188 was carrying 147 paying passengers and undisclosed crew, but I’d guess 4, maybe 5. Well, the highest paid guys sit in the front seats. With average salaries of $182,000 and $121,000 respectively, the Captain and First Officer have the ultimate responsibility and duty to get their passengers to their destination safely. They are aided in this by a cockpit-ful of technology, which includes auto-pilot, programmed routes, all kinds of gages and screens, radar, weather instruments, and, of course, radios. How is it, then, that even a flight attendant was trying to get them back on course?

“Losing situational awareness” causes accidents. People on their cell phones while driving lose situational awareness. I’ve worked for a half-dozen organizations over 45-plus years. My present organization, the Michigan Army National Guard falls under the domain of hundreds of Army regulations, a whole bunch of National Guard regulations, and dozens of it’s own. I’ve never been involved or seen such a heated discussion as these pilots must have been in to miss radio calls and other indicators from their avionics as to the reality of their situation. If they’re that passionate, they should replace some politicians in Washington.

It’s probably not a good day for either passengers or crew to look out the window and see a couple of armed fighter escorts. That’s what almost happened when these guys failed to answer the radio. As they left Denver Center’s airspace, if they failed to switch to MPS Center’s frequency, that could be part of the problem. But, MPS requested other aircraft to try and reach Flight 188 on the Denver frequency, to no avail. There is fairly widespread suspicion the flightdeck crew were sleeping. Maybe they were just playing video games on their Nintendo DSi or iPhone. Or, how about distracted by books on tape?

Sadly, unless the crew fesses up, we may never know what really happened. It seems Flight 188’s outdated voice recorder only has 30 minutes of memory. I gotta take a ride on NWA next week. And they wonder why flying ain’t fun anymore.

Update:

28 Oct 2009

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the pilot licenses for first officer Richard Cole and captain Timothy Cheney. NW 188’s flight deck crew told NTSB investigators they were so engrossed in a new crew scheduling program on their laptops they lost awareness of time and place. I’m glad they won’t be driving my plane.

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2 Comments

  1. Yikes!

    That is kind of scary that the pilots lost ‘situational awareness’ to the point of not hearing the radio calls…

    Wow.

    Comment by steve — Sat, 24 Oct 2009 @ 11:53 pm

    • Yeah.

      Wonder if we’ll ever know what happened. The voice recorder’s useless for this and the data recorder’s gonna show the plane was on autopilot.

      Comment by cynicalsynapse — Sun, 25 Oct 2009 @ 12:53 am


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