Crew on wayward jet said that they lost track of time while using personal laptops in the cockpit
I purposely waited to blog about Northwest Flight 188 overflying it’s destination until more information had come to light, but now that the NTSB has announced some details of their investigation, I wish to comment. I’m not 100% sure I believe the laptop story. I’m a pilot and can tell you from experience that despite conversations in the cockpit, navigating the aircraft, and other distractions inside or outside of the airplane, when ATC calls your tail or flight number, your attention is immediately refocused. It is rare that ATC would have to call the aircraft more than twice to get the pilot’s attention. Listen to the ATC feeds found here for an hour and count how many times the controller has to repeat an instruction more than twice – it almost never happens! I find it hard to believe that both pilots could have been so engrossed as to have missed over an hour’s worth of radio calls and communication requests.
Flying any aircraft is complex and is surrounded by inherent risks. Obviously as the aircraft becomes more sophisticated the potential of a systems breakdown increases. At 500mph and 35000’ it would only take a few seconds of distraction during a critical period to miss the opportunity to keep the aircraft from entering an unsafe situation. The outcome of this story could have been much worse. Imagine if their distraction lasted longer, and the jet ran out of fuel. Or if there had been severe weather such as the Air France jet from Brazil experienced a few months back. Imagine how differently the “Miracle on the Hudson” might have ended if Capt. Sullenberger and First Officer Skiles were not ready to immediately analyze the situation, communicate the problem, and quickly determine the best resolution for a successful ditching. If they had to spend any extra time bringing their focus back to the cockpit to regain situational awareness, hundreds of people might have died. The airline industry, FAA, DOT, and NTSB do a great job of monitoring, self-monitoring, training, and reacting to help increase passenger safety.
I believe that FAA acted appropriately in this situation by revoking the licenses of two pilots who demonstrated a total deriliction of their duties to their passengers.