NTSB: Northwest Pilots Distracted By Laptops

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Two Northwest pilots who overflew their destination and went silent for over an hour last week were working on their laptops, in violation of company policy, the NTSB said on Monday. The first officer was showing the captain how to use a new crew flight scheduling procedure, and both pilots said they lost track of time. During their discussion, they did not monitor the airplane or notice calls from ATC. Neither pilot was wearing a headset, but both said they heard conversation on the radio. Also, neither pilot noticed messages that were sent by company dispatchers. 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 for an ETA. The captain said at that point, he looked at his primary flight display and realized they had passed their destination, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP). They then made contact with ATC and were given vectors back to MSP. The flight had originated in San Diego.

Northwest was recently acquired by Delta, which prompted the change in rules that the pilots were discussing. In a statement issued on Monday, Delta said the two pilots in command of Northwest Flight 188 are suspended until the conclusion of the investigations, but added that using laptops in the cockpit is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies, "and violations of that policy will result in termination." The NTSB said the captain, age 53, has been with Northwest since 1985 and has a total flight time of about 20,000 hours. The F/O, age 54, was hired in 1997, and has a total flight time of about 11,000 hours. Both pilots said they had never had an accident, incident or violation; neither reported any ongoing medical conditions, and both said they were not fatigued. They were both commuters, but they had a 19-hour layover in San Diego just prior to the incident flight. The Safety Board said the cockpit voice recorder was only a half-hour long, began during final approach, and continued while the aircraft was at the gate. The board will analyze data from the flight data recorder to see if any information regarding crew activity during the portion of flight where radio contact was lost can be obtained.