Northwest flight crew “distracted” during flight to Minneapolis

[PeterPaul.ca] — The pilots of Northwest Airlines flight 188 were distracted with their laptops as they flew past the Minneapolis airport they were supposed to land at and only realized something was wrong when a flight attendant called to inquire about their arrival, a report released by the NTSB on Thursday said.

The two pilots were on their laptops reviewing a Delta Airlines Preferential Bidding System, or PBS, used for crew scheduling. The system was introduced shortly after the merger of Northwest Airlines and Delta in 2008.

The captain wasn’t happy with the new system because it required him to commute more often than in the past, the NTSB said. After taking out his laptop to show his bids for November to the first officer, the co-pilot then pulled out his laptop “after four to five minutes of conversation,” the report said.

Both pilots said the first officer had been tutoring the captain on the new system using their personal computers, which had not been blocking their views of the primary flight display.

After realizing they had overshot their destination by over 240 kilometres, the flight landed safely at 9:04 p.m. CDT, over one hour past its scheduled arrival.

The two pilots, since identified as Richard Cole [first officer] and Timothy Cheney [captain], have since dropped their fight against the revocation of their licenses, the FAA announced on Monday.

Both will be able to reapply for their pilot licenses in the summer.

Following are some key facts within NTSB report issued on Thursday:

· Equipment: Airbus A320.

· Route: San Diego International Airport to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport [MSP].

· Date of incident: October 21, 2009.

· There were 149 passengers on board including the two pilots and three flight attendants.

· “The pilots stated that their first indication of anything unusual with the flight was when they received a call from a flight attendant inquiring about their arrival.”

· “About 2015, the aft flight attendant called the cockpit to see when they would be landing so that they could pass the information on to passengers with connecting flights.”

· The 53-year-old captain had over 18,500 hours of accumulated flying time, including 8,196 hours as pilot-in-command.

· The 54-year-old first officer had 13,811 hours, 5,345 of which were as the second-in-command in the A320.

· Both pilots had the required two days off prior to the flight and were scheduled on a five-day trip sequence together.

· “This trip sequence was the first time the captain and first officer had flown together.”

· Upon arrival at MSP, the pilots were administered a field breathalyser test by airport police and were later tested for five major drugs of abuse, all tests were negative.

· NTSB investigators conducted a simulation based on the flight, which “was configured to recreate and document the alerts available to the flight crew of NW188, based upon the actual flight path of the aircraft, crew interviews, and the ATC filed flight plan.”

· “While at cruise altitude, the flight plan page continued to scroll through the flight plan as the aircraft passed over each waypoint, providing passive clues as to the aircrafts position. When an ACARS message was sent to the airplane, an “ACARS MSG” or “ACARS CALL” visual alert flashed green on the upper ECAM, visible to both pilots.”

· “This alert flashed for 30 seconds then turned steady green. Absent crew acknowledgement of the message, the alert remained illuminated for the duration of the simulation. Simultaneous to the green “ACARS MSG” alert was a “MESSAGE WAITING” visual advisory message that appeared on the scratchpad of both pilots’ MCDU.”

· “As the aircraft approached 180 miles from MSP, without landing data entered into the FMC, an amber coloured “ENTER DEST DATA” alert illuminated on each MCDU scratchpad, along with a white “MCDU MENU” vertically displayed on the right side of both MCDUs.”

· “There were no aural alerts associated with any visual alerts during the simulation.”

· The pilots were in violation of Delta Airlines’ flight manual which states: “Crew members are prohibited from using any device not certified for use in the aircraft. Certain devices that are certified are further restricted to prohibit their use on the flight deck. These items include, but are not limited to, personal computers, hand held GPS units, CD players, MP3 players, DVD players, etc.”

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