Babbitt defends revoking licenses of Northwest pilots

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FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt is standing behind the agency's decision to revoke the licenses of two Northwest Airlines pilots that overflew Minneapolis while using personal laptops despite concerns raised by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) that the agency acted too quickly in the suspension of the pilots.

The incident occurred in 21 October when the Airbus A320 (N02374) was enroute from San Diego to Northwest's Minneapolis hub. During the ensuing investigation by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the pilots admitted to being immersed in a discussion about new scheduling procedures, and each crew member told investigators personal laptops were used during those talks.

After the suspensions ALPA President John Prater swiftly sent a note to Babbitt warning that a voluntary disclosure scheme, the Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP), adopted by a majority of US carriers in conjunction with FAA could be in jeopardy by FAA's actions.

"Widespread pilot support of these programs has prevented the recurrence of accidents and incidents," says Prater. "Deviations from protection and proper processing of self-disclosed information cannot be tolerated, particularly in a rush in judgement to satisfy insatiable news media demands that are more often than not based on incomplete information."

Today during an address to the International Aero Club in Washington, DC Babbitt, a former pilot and head of ALPA, said FAA used air traffic control tapes rather than ASAP data to determine the revocation was necessary.

Babbitt stresses he remains 100% supportive of ASAP, but after looking at the Northwest situation carefully, "the decision I made was the decision I made".

In more formal comments Babbitt stressed that the situation was "extremely disappointing" with respect to the quality of training those pilots received.

"I can't regulate professionalism," says Babbitt, who adds that with all the emphasis placed on human factors common sense at times is still ignored.

Babbitt explains there have been several recent incidents where pilots lost focus including the February crash of a Colgan Air Q400 on approach to Buffalo. But he also juxtaposes that with the successful execution of the ditching of a US Airways A319 in the Hudson river after both engines were struck by Canada geese.

"Occasionally we have to remind ourselves it is a privilege to operate in the National Air Space," says Babbitt. "We need to take responsibility to operate safely in that airspace."