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Distracted Pilots Lose License To Fly

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, October 28, 2009 11:46 AM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Distracted Drivers, Texting, Cellphones, Laptops, Northwest Airlines, FAA, Delta

The two piilots of Flight 188 have lost their license following the 91 minute gap when they lost contact with the ground. They say they were on their laptops.

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IMAGE SOURCE: Citipages Web site / Minneapolis/ St Paul/ NWA jet

Licenses Revoked Indefinitely

Two Northwest Airlines pilots at the helm of the flight that overshot its destination by 150 miles last week have been grounded indefinitely.

On Wednesday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the licenses of Captain Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Washington and First Officer Richard Cole of Salem, Oregon who were flying Northwest Flight 188.

Both have told investigators they were busy with their laptop computers and lost track of time for 91 minutes. Initial reports were the pilots had fallen asleep or were involved in an argument, which Cheney and Cole deny. 

Cheney and Cole can appeal the move to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which has the option of granting a reprieve.

If an appeal fails, they have to wait one year to apply for a new license.

On Monday, the NTSB issued an update on the ongoing investigation.

The FAA says the pilots violated numerous federal safety regulations when they were out of contact with air traffic controllers for 91 minutes, failed to comply with instructions and clearances, and operated carelessly and recklessly.

“You engaged in conduct that put your passengers and your crew in serious jeopardy," FAA regional counsel Eddie Thomas said in a letter to Cheney.

“Northwest Flight 188 was not in communications with controllers or the airline dispatchers "while you were on a frolic of your own. ... This is a total dereliction and disregard for your duties."

A similar letter was sent to Cole.

Delta Airlines, which acquired Northwest last year issued a statement saying, "The pilots in command of Northwest Flight 188 remain suspended until the conclusion of the investigations into this incident.”

Delta has mailed an apology to all of the passengers aboard the flight and sent them a $500 travel voucher, as reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“On behalf of Northwest and Delta Air Lines, I want to take this opportunity to offer you my immediate and sincere apology for the inconvenience and concern you were caused when Northwest Flight 188 was delayed on arrival at Minneapolis/St. Paul on Wednesday evening.

I certainly understand how unsettling this event may have been for you.”


So far the laptops have not been taken or examined.

Both Cheney and Cole said they had their laptops out while the first officer discussed crew flight scheduling for the month. Neither pilot was listening to the radio or watching cockpit flight displays during that time.

To complicate matters further, the plane radio was still tuned to the Denver frequency, the last controllers they had spoken to during the San Diego to Minneapolis flight.

Neither pilot has a record of errors, violations, or accidents. The union at Delta Airlines, which acquired Northwest last year, had cautioned against any sanctions against the pilots.

None of the passengers were injured during the incident. The pilots were made aware they overshot the airport when a flight attendant contacted them on the aircraft intercom.

The license revocations are effective immediately and apply to their pilots’ commercial licenses.

The incident comes in the same month as a distracted driver summit in Washington, held by the Department of Transportation, examined vehicle and train accidents involving texting and cell phone use by operators.

There are no rules banning pilots’ use of laptops over 10,000 feet but Delta says in a statement that using laptops or engaging in behavior unrelated to commanding the aircraft during flight is strictly prohibited according to flight deck policies and violations can result in termination. #


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