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Wrong-Way Pilots Were On Their Laptops: NTSB

The two Northwest Airlines pilots who apparently paid so little attention to their cockpit duties that they flew 150 miles past the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport last week, have told investigators they were looking at their personal laptops and discussing pilot scheduling issues according to an update issued Monday by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Using personal laptops in the cockpit during a flight would violate Northwest's policy, the NTSB added.

Here's the NTSB statement:

NTSB ADVISORY

************************************************************

National Transportation Safety Board

Washington, DC 20594

October 26, 2009

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NTSB ISSUES UPDATE ON ITS INVESTIGATION OF FLIGHT 188 THAT

OVERFLEW INTENDED MINNEAPOLIS AIRPORT

************************************************************

In its continuing investigation of an Airbus A320 that
overflew the Minneapolis-St Paul International/Wold-
Chamberlain Airport (MSP), the National Transportation
Safety Board has developed the following factual
information: On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 5:56 pm
mountain daylight time, an Airbus A320, operating as
Northwest Airlines (NWA) flight 188, became a NORDO (no
radio communications) flight at 37,000 feet. The flight was
operating as a Part 121 flight from San Diego International
Airport, San Diego, California (SAN) to MSP with 144
passengers, 2 pilots and 3 flight attendants.

Both pilots were interviewed separately by NTSB
investigators yesterday in Minnesota. The following is an
overview of the interviews:

* The first officer and the captain were interviewed for
over 5 hours combined.

* The Captain, 53 years old, was hired in 1985. His
total flight time is about 20,000 hours, about 10,000
hours of A-320 time of which about 7,000 was as pilot
in command.

* The First Officer, 54 years old, was hired in 1997.
His total flight time is about 11,000 hours, and has
about 5,000 hours on the A-320.

* Both pilots said they had never had an accident,
incident or violation.

* Neither pilot reported any ongoing medical conditions.

* Both pilots stated that they were not fatigued. They
were both commuters, but they had a 19-hour layover in
San Diego just prior to the incident flight. Both said
they did not fall asleep or doze during the flight.

* Both said there was no heated argument.

* Both stated there was a distraction in the cockpit.

The pilots said there was a concentrated period of
discussion where they did not monitor the airplane or
calls from ATC even though both stated they heard
conversation on the radio. Also, neither pilot noticed
messages that were sent by company dispatchers. They
were discussing the new monthly crew flight scheduling
system that was now in place as a result of the
merger. The discussion began at cruise altitude.

* Both said they lost track of time.

* Each pilot accessed and used his personal laptop
computer while they discussed the airline crew flight
scheduling procedure. The first officer, who was more
familiar with the procedure was providing instruction
to the captain. The use of personal computers on the
flight deck is prohibited by company policy.

* Neither pilot was aware of the airplane's position
until a flight attendant called about 5 minutes before
they were scheduled to land and asked what was their
estimated time of arrival (ETA). The captain said, at
that point, he looked at his primary flight display
for an ETA and realized that they had passed MSP. They
made contact with ATC and were given vectors back to
MSP.

* At cruise altitude - the pilots stated they were using
cockpit speakers to listen to radio communications,
not their headsets.

* When asked by ATC what the problem was, they replied
"just cockpit distraction" and "dealing with company
issues".

* Both pilots said there are no procedures for the
flight attendants to check on the pilots during
flight.

The Safety Board is interviewing the flight attendants and
other company personnel today. Air traffic control
communications have been obtained and are being analyzed.
Preliminary data from the cockpit voice recorder (CVR)
revealed the following:

* The CVR recording was 1/2 hour in length.

* The cockpit area microphone channel was not working
during this recording. However, the crew's headset
microphones recorded their conversations.

* The CVR recording began during final approach, and
continued while the aircraft was at the gate.

* During the hours immediately following the incident
flight, routine aircraft maintenance provided power to
the CVR for a few minutes on several occasions, likely
recording over several minutes of the flight.

The FDR captured the entire flight which contained several
hundred aircraft parameters including the portion of flight
where there was no radio communication from the flight
crew. Investigators are examining the recorded parameters
to see if any information regarding crew activity during the
portion of flight where radio contact was lost can be
obtained.

The Safety Board's investigation continues.

Update - 7:42 pm —

Delta Airlines, Northwest's parent company, essentially said it will fire the pilots for admitting to being on their laptops and thereby violating the company's policy. An excerpt from the company's press release via PRNewswire:

ATLANTA, Oct. 26 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) today issued a statement regarding the company's cooperation with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the investigation of Northwest Flight 188. Delta and its Northwest operating subsidiary continue to openly and fully cooperate with the NTSB and FAA to complete the investigation. The pilots in command of Northwest Flight 188 remain suspended until the conclusion of the investigations into this incident.

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.

Delta CEO Richard Anderson said: "Nothing is more important to Delta than safety. We are going to continue to cooperate fully with the NTSB and the FAA in their investigations..."

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