- Apr 30, 2006
- Total Time
http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/item.aspx?type=blog&ak=620000809.blogNWA fallout: 'Distracted pilots' emerge as new safety concern
"Distracted drivers have become a hazard on roads. Has the problem spread to airliner cockpits?" That's from The New York Times, one of numerous media outlets advancing the storyline on the wayward Northwest flight that overshot its Minneapolis/St. Paul destination by nearly 150 miles before its pilots responded to attmepts to contact them. CNN is among those picking up the same theme, writing "the challenges inherent in getting a 162,000-pound aircraft off the ground and landing it safely are pretty obvious to most observers. But at cruising altitude, above 10,000 feet, pilots face a different critical challenge: staying focused."
RELATED LINK:Delta CEO: 'Clear violation' involved in wayward flight
"There's so much automation in the cockpit that, literally, an aircraft taking off from Los Angeles and landing in New York can have very little attendance by the crew," aviation consultant Michael Goldfarb tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "That automation has created a problem of boredom in the cockpit," Montagne adds.
However, the Times notes that Salon.com columnist Patrick Smith argues in his Ask the Pilot column that the automation argument was "grossly oversimplifying things." Smith says "even the most routine and 'automated' flight remains subject to countless contingencies and a tremendous amount of input from the crew,” going on to say the NWA over-flight incident amounts to a "freak event."
Of course, not everyone is buying the pilots' explanation that they overshot Minnesota after becoming engrossed on their personal laptops in an attempt to figure out a new company pilot scheduling system. That, the pilots say, left them oblivious to attempts to contact them for more then 90 minutes. The Star-Ledger of Newark writes "the pilots insist they didn’t fall asleep as some experts have theorized. They were awake, they told investigators; they simply weren’t paying attention, so they didn’t answer all those frantic calls from air traffic controllers, other pilots and their airline."
There are other factors under review, as well. The Wall Street Journal reports "investigators are looking into missteps by air-traffic controllers that may have contributed to the loss of radio contact with Northwest Flight 188 for more than an hour, according to people familiar with the matter." The Journal says "now, the National Transportation Safety Board has expanded its probe to look at apparent safety lapses by controllers, these people said. Investigators have scheduled interviews with controllers for (this) week." Stay tuned …