The pilots who were at the controls of a Northwest Airlines jet that overflew its destination by more than 150 miles have agreed to forfeit their licenses.
The aircraft was out of contact with air traffic controllers for more than an hour on Oct. 21, 2009. Capt. Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Wash., and his first officer, Richard Cole of Salem, Ore., reached an agreement with officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Transportation, MSNBC reported Monday morning. Under the terms of the agreement, both men can re-apply for their licenses in early 2011, but "they would have to start the process at the beginning -- including flight simulator training- at the carrier's expense," according to MSNBC.
Air traffic controllers asked the Northwest Airlines pilots who overflew Minneapolis repeatedly about what happened on the plane, according to transcripts released in November by the FAA. The jet, which took off from San Diego's Lindbergh Field, was out of contact for 77 minutes before controllers re-established communications. The pilots told authorities during the flight that they were distracted but did not give details.
After almost 90 seconds of conversation about the route they should take to Minneapolis, the controllers said, "I just have to verify that the cockpit is secure."
"It is secure; we got distracted," one of the pilots responded. The pilot said that they were dealing with some company issues and "that's all all I can tell you right now at this time," according to the transcript.
The pilots eventually told the National Transportation Safety Board that they were discussing their company's new crew-scheduling program over their laptop computers as their plane flew past Minneapolis by 150 miles. Northwest was bought by Delta Air Lines in 2008, and the company has been working to integrate its computer systems.
Air traffic controllers ultimately had the pilots perform several turns to verify that they were in control of the plane. It landed safely in Minneapolis and was met at the gate by police.
The transcripts also show controllers checking that the flight had enough fuel. The pilot responded that they had about two hours' worth of fuel on board and that it wasn't a concern.