Who realised flying airliners had become so boring?
It turns out that the two pilots of the Northwest A320 that overflew Minneapolis St Paul were two old lags within sight of retirement who got talking about the age-old subject of the crew rostering system, pulled out their laptops on the flight deck to look at the software, and next thing they know the flight attendant is asking when they’re going to land. They start actually flying the airplane again and realise Minneapolis is a long way behind them.
Captain 53, with 20,000 blameless hours, half of them in the A320 and 7,000 of them in command. First officer 54 with 11,000 similarily clean hours, 5,000 in the A320. What a way to end a career.
They’re spared the full embarrasment of having the whole ghastly saga played back to them because the 30min CVR doesn’t cover the period in question. Although most of the last half-hour is on the tape and may or may not be educational.
Below is the NTSB statement today after interviewing the pilots for five no doubt excruciating hours.
In its continuinginvestigation of an Airbus A320 that
overflew theMinneapolis-St Paul International/Wold-
ChamberlainAirport (MSP), the National Transportation
Safety Board hasdeveloped the following factual
information: On Wednesday, October 21, 2009, at 5:56 pm
mountain daylighttime, an Airbus A320, operating as
NorthwestAirlines (NWA) flight 188, became a NORDO (no
radiocommunications) flight at 37,000 feet. The flight was
operating as aPart 121 flight from San Diego International
Airport, SanDiego, California (SAN) to MSP with 144
passengers, 2pilots and 3 flight attendants.
Both pilots wereinterviewed separately by NTSB
investigatorsyesterday in Minnesota. The following is an
overview of theinterviews:
* Thefirst officer and the captain were interviewed for
over 5 hourscombined.
* TheCaptain, 53 years old, was hired in 1985. His
total flight timeis about 20,000 hours, about 10,000
hours of A-320time of which about 7,000 was as pilot
* TheFirst Officer, 54 years old, was hired in 1997.
His total flighttime is about 11,000 hours, and has
about 5,000 hourson the A-320.
* Bothpilots said they had never had an accident,
* Neitherpilot reported any ongoing medical conditions.
* Bothpilots stated that they were not fatigued. They
were bothcommuters, but they had a 19-hour layover in
San Diego justprior to the incident flight. Both said
they did not fallasleep or doze during the flight.
* Bothsaid there was no heated argument.
* Bothstated there was a distraction in the cockpit.
The pilots saidthere was a concentrated period of
discussion wherethey did not monitor the airplane or
calls from ATCeven though both stated they heard
conversation onthe radio. Also, neither pilot noticed
messages thatwere sent by company dispatchers. They
were discussingthe new monthly crew flight scheduling
system that wasnow in place as a result of the
merger. Thediscussion began at cruise altitude.
* Bothsaid they lost track of time.
* Eachpilot accessed and used his personal laptop
computer whilethey discussed the airline crew flight
schedulingprocedure. The first officer, who was more
familiar with theprocedure was providing instruction
to thecaptain. The use of personal computers on the
flight deck isprohibited by company policy.
* Neitherpilot was aware of the airplane’s position
until a flightattendant called about 5 minutes before
they werescheduled to land and asked what was their
estimated time ofarrival (ETA). The captain said, at
that point, helooked at his primary flight display
for an ETA andrealized that they had passed MSP. They
made contact withATC and were given vectors back to
* Atcruise altitude – the pilots stated they were using
cockpit speakersto listen to radio communications,
* Whenasked by ATC what the problem was, they replied
“justcockpit distraction” and “dealing with company
* Both pilots said there are no procedures for the
flight attendantsto check on the pilots during
The Safety Boardis interviewing the flight attendants and
other companypersonnel today. Air traffic control
communicationshave been obtained and are being analyzed.
Preliminary datafrom the cockpit voice recorder (CVR)
* TheCVR recording was 1/2 hour in length.
* Thecockpit area microphone channel was not working
during thisrecording. However, the crew’s headset
microphonesrecorded their conversations.
* TheCVR recording began during final approach, and
continued whilethe aircraft was at the gate.
* Duringthe hours immediately following the incident
flight, routineaircraft maintenance provided power to
the CVR for a fewminutes on several occasions, likely
recording overseveral minutes of the flight.
The FDR capturedthe entire flight which contained several
hundred aircraftparameters including the portion of flight
where there wasno radio communication from the flight
crew. Investigators are examining the recorded parameters
to see if anyinformation regarding crew activity during the
portion of flightwhere radio contact was lost can be
The SafetyBoard’s investigation continues.