Ethical Dilemma of Overshooting Airports Essay

On October 21, 2009 Pilot Timothy Cheney and Co-pilot Richard Cole of Northwest Airlines flight 188 had overshot Minneapolis International Airport by 150 miles, which carried 147 passengers because the pilots had been busy using their laptops. The pilots had only received a slap on the wrists from the FAA; however their punishment should have been a bit harsher because the lives of everyone on that flight were put at risk because of irresponsible pilots.

Ethical Dilemma of the Pilots The Flight Control tower at Minneapolis International were not able to contact the pilots, no one knew what the crew of the Northwest Airlines jetliner was doing at 37,000 feet after they flew past the airport. To make matters worse, military jets had been called to scramble to chase the plane and if it had been shot down everyone on board would have died because of the inattentive pilots.

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The excuse from one of the pilots was that they were not doing anything that would threaten the people in the back at all accord to an interview from Associated Press (CBS News, 2009). This is a poor excuse because the lives of everyone on board were at risk and the plane could have been shot down. The pilots also failed to answer the radio messages sent from air traffic controllers and pilots from other nearby aircraft, this was the neglect of the Northwest Airlines pilots who were supposed to be in charge of the safety of their passengers and crew. Technical Dilemma

The flight had also contained an older model of a cockpit voice recorder which only recorded the last 30 minutes of cockpit conversation whereas the newer models record up to two hours of data, so the NTSB was only able to capture the last 30 minutes before landing (CBS News, 2009). This made the NTSB investigation more difficult, the laptops should have been taken away until the investigation was over due to the fact that no one knows exactly what the pilots were doing on their laptops that caused them to be distracted for so long, for all we know they could have been watching porn.

There was a system in operation on the aircraft which is supposed to send text messages to a plane in flight, New York Times mentions, it does not sound a chime or other aural alarm nor does it alert ground personnel that the message got through (Wald, 2009). If this technology was revamped to sound aural and visual alerts that cannot have the volume turned down then perhaps an event like this would never happen again. Political Dilemma The FAA administered the punishment of revoking the pilot ratings and certificates while offering the pilots a chance of regaining their certifications and pilot ratings.

This was pretty much just a slap on the wrist; the pilots could have been charged with multiple counts of accidental attempted murder. Another issue is that the FAA should have foreseen these events ahead of time and issued federal rules that prohibit pilots from using personal electronic devices. Which at that time according to an article from The Huffington Post the only federal rules that apply to pilots use of laptops and personal electronics only apply if the plane is flying below 10,000 feet, meaning that pilots can use a laptop above 10,000 feet (Lowy, 2009).

Minnesota Public Radio stated that the pilots and FAA wanted to resolve the case in the interest of avoiding further publicity, the agreement also stipulated that settlement is not an admission by pilots that they did anything wrong (Karnowski, 2010). The FAA should never allow publicity to affect their decision on disputing a case, especially when two inattentive pilots put the lives of everyone on board a flight at risk. The FAA simply rewarded these pilots for not performing their line of duty.

Captain Cheney did however admit fault when he said “I was wrong to let another force come from outside and distract me” according to an article from New York Times (Wald, 2009). The Northwest Airlines pilots who were grounded after overflying the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles are trying to get their licenses back. National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said Thursday that Captain Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Washington, and First Officer Richard Cole of Salem, have filed appeals.

The FAA revoked the licenses of the pilots last month. Cole and Cheney had 10 days to appeal to the three-member National Transportation Safety Board, the same agency that investigates air crashes and makes safety recommendations. If their appeal fails, they can apply for a new license after one year. The Federal Aviation Administration said the pilots had violated numerous regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

But the pilots said they had been so engrossed in a complicated new crew-scheduling program on their laptops — a cockpit violation of airline policy that could cost them their licenses — that they lost track of time and place for more than an hour, until a flight attendant on an intercom got their attention. By then, the Airbus A320 with its 144 passengers and five crew members had cruised on autopilot past its Minneapolis destination and was over Wisconsin, at 37,000 feet. It turned out the plane’s radio was still tuned to a frequency used by Denver controllers, even though the aircraft had flown beyond its reach.

Delta said in a statement that using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots’ command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline’s flight deck policies. The airline said violations of that policy will result in termination. The Northwest Airlines pilots have blamed air traffic controllers in part for the incident, saying controllers violated procedures. Capt. Timothy Cheney, 53, of Gig Harbor, Wash. , and First Officer Richard Cole, 54, of Salem, Ore. , said in documents filed Nov. 4 with the National Transportation Safety Board that controllers didn’t follow rules and practices contained in the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control manual and didn’t coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatchers. The documents don’t offer any details on those violations. Cheney and Cole are appealing the Federal Aviation Administration’s revocation of their pilots’ licenses. The pair were out of radio contact for 77 minutes on Oct. 21 as their plane carrying 144 passengers flew more than 100 miles past Minneapolis.

The Airbus A320 was over Wisconsin before controllers were able to re-establish contact. The pilots later told authorities they had been working on crew scheduling on their laptops and didn’t realize they had missed their destination until a flight attendant using an intercom asked when the flight would be landing. Cole also said in his filing that he shouldn’t be punished or his punishment should be mitigated because he relied on Cheney as the pilot in command of the aircraft to fulfill his responsibilities.

Both pilots had extensive flying experience and told investigators they had had no previous incidents or violations. Cheney was hired by Northwest in 1985 and had about 20,000 hours of flying time, about half of it in the A320. Cole had about 11,000 hours of flight time, including 5,000 hours in the A320. FAA revoked their licenses six days after the incident. The agency said the pilots violated numerous federal safety regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

Doug Church, a spokesman for the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, declined to comment, citing the union’s status as a party to the NTSB’s investigation of the incident. FAA officials have said controllers repeatedly tried unsuccessfully to contact Northwest Flight 188 as it flew from San Diego across a broad swath of the continent. They’ve also said there were several shift changes during that time in which controllers going off duty who had handled the plane didn’t inform controllers coming on duty that the plane was out of radio contact.

The initial investigation and interviews that the NTSB has had with pilots found that it seemed the two pilots of the Airbus A320 plane “simply lost track of time” since they were using their personal laptops. Neither of the pilots was tired since they have had a 19-hour layover. There was no argument of disagreement, either but rather a “concentrated period of discussion where they did not monitor the aircraft of calls from air traffic control,” the NTSB explained. However, the NTSB added that both Timothy B Cheney and Richard I Cole “have (or had) unblemished records” and that they have logged, between them, over 30,000 hours of flying.

The interview by the NTSB revealed that Timothy Cheney, who was hired in 1985, has 20,000 hour of flight time to his credit (about 10,000 of those in an Airbus A320 plane. ) Richard I Cole who was hired in 1997, has flown a total of 11,000 (out of which, around 5,000 hours in the A320 aircraft). Officials of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) described the behavior of the two pilots as “negligent and careless” and said that they did violate “a series of aviation regulations”, including failing to respond to instructions from the air traffic control.

The pilots Timothy Cheney and Richard Cole told the investigators of the National Transportation Safety Board that they were “busy discussing a new work-scheduling system. ” It was in April 2008 that the United Stats based Delta Airlines bought Northwest Airlines, based in Eagan, Minnesota, the United States, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Airlines. The consolidation of the operations of the two carriers is still underway. According to aviation experts, pilots of Northwest Airlines are still in the process of switching over to the “computer bidding and scheduling system” of Delta Airlines.

The incident involving the Northwest Airlines Flight 188, the Federal Aviation Administration requested the involvement of the U. S. military “to track aircraft in unusual situation,” as has been the practice since the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. Accordingly, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) based in Denver, Colorado, sent fighter jets in search of the “missing” plane, suspecting a possible security threat. Pilots of commercial flights are not allowed to lose contact with air traffic controllers for an extended period of time.

Northwest Airlines forbids pilots from using laptop computers in the cockpit. Interviews with the flight crew and other documents released by the National Transportation Safety Board indicate the pilots were completely unaware of their predicament until the moment the intercom rand. They were unaware that they had flown their Airbus A320 with 144 passengers more than 100 miles past their destination, tat air traffic controllers and their airline’s dispatcher had been struggling to reach them for more than an hour, or that the military was at that moment readying fighter jets for an intercept mission.

Timothy Cheney, the captain of Flight 188, said he looked up from his laptop to discover there was no longer and flight information programmed into the Airbus A320’s computer. He said his navigation system showed Culuth, Minnesota, off to his left and Eau Claire, Wisconsin, ahead on the right. The plane had been out of radio contact for 77 minutes as it flew across a broad swath of the country on October 21, raising national security concerns.

Cheney, 54 and First Officer Richard Cole, 54, told investigators they had taken out their laptops and were absorbed in working on a complicated crew scheduling program that they were required to learn following Delta Airlines acquisition of Northwest Airlines a year earlier. Cjole told investigators they became distracted as they “got deeper and deeper into it. ” Cheney said he was “blown away” by now long the conversation, which was only supposed to take about ten minute, went on. Investigators wrote that Cheney felt embarrassed.

Their report quotes him saying “I was wrong and that he” let another force from the outside and distract me. ” The tension of the moment the pilots became aware of their predicament was evident in the crew interviews. According to a statement signed by the flight attendant Barbara Logan, she called the cockpit around 8:15 p. m. CDT to find out when they would be landing. She was told they would land around 12 Greenwich Mean Time. “I said I did not know the time, he said I was hosed and hung up. The lead flight attendant called to get gate information and was apparently also hung up on, according to the report.

That flight attendant later got through to the cockpit. Investigators’ interviews with Cheney and Cole also hint at tension between the pilots. The pair was flying together for the first time. Cheney complained that Cole’s piloting shills as ‘OK, but I have flown with better,” he complained that Cole had missed some steps when they were readying for takeoff because he apparently was still learning Delta’s procedures. Bothe pilots are appealing the GAA’s revocation of their licenses. Cole has cited his reliance on Cheney as the pilot in charge as a mitigating factor in his case.

Flight 188 wasn’t the only Northwest operation that was hard to reach that night. A controller who called northwest’s dispatchers at ask them to contact the plane first encountered a recording telling him the phone number had been changed. He dialed the new number, but the phone rang 10 to 20 times without being answered, he told investigators. He hung up, and redialed. This time, someone at the dispatch office answered the phone and put him on hold. The Federal Aviation Administration has since said the phone numbers controllers had for Northwest predated its acquisition by Delta and now been updated.

Northwest dispatchers ultimately sent 15 text messages to the cockpit asking pilots to contact controllers, but there was no response. The pilots said they did not notice the messages until after they re-established contact. Cole said he later inadvertently pushed the “delete all” button, erasing the messages. The first controllers the pilots spoke to after becoming aware of their situation turned out to be in Winnipeg, Canada. They had failed to switch their radio frequency from one used by controllers in Denver to one used by Minneapolis controllers.

They were still using the Denver frequency which is the same as the Winnipeg frequency, when they tried to reach air traffic control. The NTSB’s investigation into the incident has also exposed weaknesses in communications between controllers and the Domestic Events Network, of DEN, which is essentially a running conference call between air traffic controllers, military commanders, and other authorities involved in aviation security that was established after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The manager on duty at the Minneapolis air traffic control facility that evening could not be reached by the network at one point.

The network’s speaker is at her desk, but her duties overseeing controllers take her away from the desk.

References

Co-Pilot: Airport Overshoot Innocuous (2009, October 26). CBS News. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://www. cbsnews. com/2100-201_162-5416822. html Feds Interview Northwest Pilots Who Overshot Minneapolis Airport (2010, March 18). The Huffington Post. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/2009/10/26/feds-interview-northwest-_n_333326. html Karnowski, S. (2010, March 15). Pilots Who Overshot Airport Reach Deal with FAA. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://minnesota. ublicradio. org/display/web/2010/03/15/waywardpilots/ Wald, L. W. (2009, December 16). Report on Pilots Who Overshot Airport. The New York Times. Retrieved October 21, 2012 from http://www. nytimes. com/2009/12/17/us/17pilot. html? _r=0 (2009,Oct. ). Northwest pilots deny sleeping on the job. 3NewsBestNews. Retrieved from http://. 3news. co. nz (2009,Oct. ). Northwest pilots who overflew Minneapolis tell NTSB they were engrossed, using laptops. Aircrew Buzz. com. Retrieved from http://aircrewbuzz. com (2009, Oct. ). Pilots of wayward jet lose licenses. CNN U. S. Retrieved from http:///articles. cnn. com