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FAA to reinforce controller training for loss of radio communication

US FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says the agency is in the process of updating training and procedures for air traffic controllers in both handling the loss of two-way communication with aircraft, and promptly alerting other agencies once communication is lost.

The effort follows a "detailed review" by the FAA of the 21 October incident in which a Northwest Airlines A320 cruising at 37,000ft remained out of radio contact with controllers for 77 minutes. Delta and Northwest Airlines merged in October of last year.

The pilots of Flight 188 overflew their destination airport - Minneapolis - by 150 miles before re-establishing contact and returning to the airport.

The men later told investigators they were using laptop computers on the flight from San Diego to discuss Northwest scheduling software. The FAA late last month revoked the each pilot's license, a move the two are appealing with legal assistance from the Air Line Pilots Association. The agency is also came under criticism after the incident for not alerting military domestic event network officials of the situation via a special teleconferencing line until 69 minutes after the communications breakdown, 59 minutes longer than required.

"The FAA also has taken steps to ensure more accurate preliminary information about air traffic events can be provided to top officials more quickly," says Babbitt. "We work closely with other aviation partners every day to make sure we all have a common understanding of what's happening in the sky."

Babbitt says the FAA will improve its incident notification process by the end of November, and will review changes in training and procedures by the end of January.

Included will be improvements "to ensure that air traffic controllers have the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to know which aircraft are in communications with air traffic control and can readily identify when communications have been interrupted", as well as to ensure that coordination with other agencies about "no radio" events and other aviation security events "is handled effectively and accurately".

Babbitt says the agency will also ensure "more accurate preliminary investigations and more timely dissemination of information internally".

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