Union Protests Firing Of Wayward NWA Pilots

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Two Northwest Airlines pilots have been fired for landing at the wrong airport in June, and their union is protesting the dismissal. "We believe the punishment is excessive," said Will Holman, spokesman for the Northwest Airlines Air Line Pilots Association. Since the incident, charts and navigational databases have been modified to clearly distinguish the airport and air base locations, he said. The NWA Airbus 319 was headed for Rapid City (S.D.) Regional Airport when it landed at Ellsworth Air Force Base instead, about 7 miles away. The two airports have similar runway layouts, and one approach path takes aircraft straight over Ellsworth on their way in to Rapid City. On a tape from the Air Force tower, an unidentified woman said the mistake was a common one. "When they pop out of the clouds, they see the [Air Force base] runway, they don't trust their instruments and all of a sudden make a dive. And that's basically how it happened." The Twin Cities-Rapid City flight had 117 passengers on board. The pilots were fired on July 23, and the grievance was filed on Aug. 20, according to the union. The airline has declined to identify the pilots or confirm that they were fired. A hearing for the two pilots is expected this fall. After the erroneous landing, late-night host Jay Leno poked fun at the carrier: "Northwest Airlines announced a new slogan today -- 'Where the hell are we?'" No word from Northwest regarding whether that indignity influenced their decision.