Lost Northwest Pilots Were Trying Out New Software

“The NY Times reports that two Northwest Airlines pilots who flew about 110 miles past their destination to the skies over Wisconsin as more than a dozen air-traffic controllers in three locations tried to get the plane’s attention had taken out their personal laptops in the cockpit, a violation of airline policy, so the first officer could tutor the captain in a new scheduling system put in place by Delta Air Lines, which acquired Northwest last fall. ‘Both said they lost track of time,’ said an interim report from the National Transportation Safety Board countering theories in aviation circles that the two pilots might have fallen asleep or were arguing in the cockpit. ‘Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots’ command of the aircraft during flight,’ said a statement from Delta Airlines, ‘is strictly against the airline’s flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination.’ Industry executives and analysts said the pilots’ behavior was a striking lapse for such veteran airmen who have a total of 31,000 flying hours of experience between them. In the case of Flight 188, ‘Neither pilot was aware of the airplane’s position until a flight attendant called about five minutes before they were scheduled to land and asked what was their estimated time of arrival,’ the interim report said.”

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