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About that Northwest Crew who overflew Minneapolis...

I'm about to make myself useful for John, since this is a principally Army blog. I have, below, the excerpts of an email I received from a fellow airline pilot. It is a summary of another pilot's conversation with Tim Cheney, the Captain of NW Flight 188, that overflew MSP. My comments are in [brackets].

I had a one hour conversation with Tim Cheney yesterday and would like to shed some light on what happened to cause the over flight of their destination, MSP.

Before I begin with details, I wanted to say right up front that although there are many events that helped to cause this, Tim takes full responsibility and places no blame on anyone but himself. He is very humbled by what has happened and fully understands that as captain, he was responsible for the a/c, crew and passengers. That said, he wanted me to know how it all happened. Secondly, he has the full support of his neighbors in Gig Harbor, WA, as well has his church parishioners. One of his neighbors wrote a letter to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis saying how great a family the Cheney's were. I agree.

On their flight from San Diego to Minneapolis, after passing Denver, the Flight Attendant called the cockpit to let them know Tim's crew meal was ready. Tim was the "flying pilot" on this leg [normally the Capt and the F/O alternate legs so each has a chance to get a landing; you need a minimum of 3 every 90 days], so he told his F/O [First Officer--co-pilot] that when the F/A brings the meal up, he will step back to use the restroom. When Tim returned, the F/A left the cockpit and he began to eat his crew meal. When a pilot leaves to use the restroom, it is customary for the other pilot to brief him on his return on "any changes", such as altitude, heading, course changes or atc center frequency changes, etc. [In my company, it is an operational requirement...I suspect it is at NWA, too. That's the FIRST thing I think about when the Capt returns, but maybe it's because I fly a lot of international and keeping one's situational awareness up is VERY important when you're flying outside controlled airspace--like over the Pacific Ocean--and/or dealing with foreign Air Traffic Control controllers.] In this instance, nothing was said....even though the F/O had received a frequency change. The problem that occurred was that the F/O never got a response on the new was not the correct was a Winnipeg Canada Center Freq. [Why the F/O didn't persist in getting in contact with ATC just doesn't make sense. When you switch to a new freq and are unsuccessful establishing contact, you return to the previous frequency and confirm the next one...usually, that's where you catch the mistake; either you mis-heard the numbers, or the ATC guy gave you the incorrect one and sends you to the right one. In any case, you DO NOT just check in and NOT get a do something to get someone, anyone, to start talking to you again. The fact that the Capt was out of the cockpit while the mistake was being made, i.e., the F/O not getting an answer after checking in and just letting that go, REALLY set the Boss up for failure. That said, every transmission from Center is prefaced by their callsign, e.g., "Airline 123, Winnepeg Center, at pilot's discretion, descend and maintain Flight Level Two-Four-Zero." or some if I had heard "Winnepeg Center," I would have asked the F/O something to the effect of, "WTF, over, why are we hearing Winnie Center?"]

Now, Denver Center is trying to get a hold of them because they never checked in, because the F/O had dialed in the wrong freq......that is who called them so many times....but, then there was a shift change at Denver Center and no one briefed the new controller that there was a NORDO A/C ["NORDO" = "No Radio" either a failure of their comm systems or on the wrong freq, usually it's the latter] in their, in actuality, ATC basically "lost" this a/c... [not to mention the fact that the shift change didn't include the fact that they weren't talking to NW 188. That's another serious error on the relieved controller's part.]

Tim told me he heard ATC chatter on the speaker and so never thought they were out of radio range.....but, of course, they were hearing pilots talk on Winnipeg Center. For non-pilots.....when we don't hear anything for a long while...we ask ATC if they are still there....sometimes they are and sometimes you are out of their area and need to find a new frequency. [This is correct. I have had this happen to me more than once between Albuquerque and Los Angeles Centers...there is a dead spot out there in the NM/NV/CA area where you just go beyond Albuquerque's range and neither you, nor the ATC controller, realize it until the hair starts standing up on both your necks and you make a radio call to confirm contact is still established.] With this chatter going on, there was no concern that they were not being controlled.

Then Tim told the F/O that the new bidding system was horrible and that his November schedule was not what he hoped for. [This is a CLASSIC result of two airline companies merging--the pilot force is unionized and EVERYTHING is based on seniority. When you merge two pilot groups, the seniority issues are contentious to the point of open hostility if it isn't managed properly. Moreover, Delta is the Big Dog in this fight, so Northwest's pilots have to get used to the buyer's scheduling/bidding system. This sucks for senior guys in the bought company and is very frustrating. Plus, if you don't know how the new system works, you can "flunk bidding" for any given month and get a schedule that you did not want. This is even more painful for the more senior this Captain.] He mentioned that his son was going into the Army in Dec. and he wanted certain days off so he could see him off.....the F/O said he could help him, he knew more about the new bidding system. Tim got his lap top out and put it on his left leg and showed the F/O how he bid. He told me he had his laptop out for maybe 2 minutes. Then the F/O said that he would show 
on his laptop. He had his laptop out maximum of 5 minutes. [Assuming this is true, it sounds like the laptop thing was irrelevant to the overall situation. It looks to me like the F/O just totally gooned up the frequency change that had occurred much earlier...while the Captain was out of the friggin' cockpit!]

Let's also add the 100 kt tail wind that they had to the discussion, not helping matters. [Not good...this compresses time. You're going 100 knots faster than normal so going the wrong direction is made even more apparent when you're being pushed along at speeds that were probably on the order of 8 or 9 nautical miles per minute.]

The F/As called the cockpit on the interphone (no they did not kick the door; no, nobody was sleeping; no, nobody was fighting) and asked when they will get there. They looked at their nav screens and were directly over MSP.

Because they had their screens set on the max 320 nm setting, when the F/O called on the frequency, which of course was Winnipeg Center, he saw Eau Claire and Duluth on his screen. They asked where they were and the F/O told them over Eau Claire, which was not even close, but MSP had disappeared from the screen even though they were right over the city. [I can see this. Your Nav Displays show where you are in relation to your filed route. They can be adjusted to various ranges based on what you're doing; anywhere from 5 to 320 miles. The longer the look range, the less the detail on the screen OR the more clutter, depending on the selections you've made. Plus, the actual display shows twice as much data--the 320-mile ring at max range is at one-half the entire display so the edge of the screen is actually about 640 miles, where things can start to look mighty small and can be missed. The only time I use 320 routinely is over the ocean. Over land, I tend to keep a closer-in view for both navigational situational awareness and traffic conflict monitoring.]

They were, as you all know, vectored all over the sky to determine if they had control of the a/c and Tim kept telling the F/O to tell them they have control, they want to land at MSP, etc. They landed with 11,000 pounds of fuel (no, they did not come in on fumes, but had 2 hours in an A320) and not but 15 minutes past scheduled arrival, even though they left San Diego 35 minutes late due to an ATC flow restriction.

In the jetway awaiting them were FBI and every other authority you can imagine.

Aftermath and tidbits:

Although these pilots filed an NASAP Report, which was designed to have pilots tell the truth about events, so the FAA could learn from them, they had their licenses revoked by the ATL F.A.A. even before they came out of their meeting with NTSB and NASAP meetings. [If I were a union guy, I would go ballistic over this. I would also go ballistic as a safety guy. But, Ready-Fire-Aim is FAA SOP.]

ATL FAA is really big on this new regulation which will allow pilots to take a short nap in flight so they will be rested for the approach...they [I'm not sure who "they" is in this case, but I'm assuming it's the FAA] were insistent that they were sleeping.

MSP FAA, Vance (do not know last name) was the person who handed Tim his revocation letter (which was leaked to the entire world by the ATL FAA) [FAA is a political animal...what can I say?]. Tim said Vance had tears in his eyes and walked away, said nothing. It was later learned that the entire MSP FAA office did not agree at all with revoking their pilot's licenses, but had no jurisdiction over the matter, since ATL FAA had control because of Delta.

The pilots have been to D.C., ATL, and MSP for several meetings. In ATL, they met with the chief pilots and Tim said they could not have been nicer. They are working to resolve this, not to try and fire them. But of course, they will have to get their license back for Delta to consider allowing them to continue flying. The appeal has been filed for the FAA to reinstate their licenses or to settle on some form of punishment, etc.

When Tim and his wife were in MSP for a meeting with the NTSB, they happen to be staying at the same hotel as the NTSB was. The next morning in the lobby, the NTSB official came over to Tim and said he did not know why they even called them in for this event. There was no safety issue. Also, MSP Center informed Delta that there never was a problem and no aircraft were near their plane. Even though no radio communications, they had been followed and separated. [In other words, ATC made sure they wouldn't run into anyone and nobody would run into them.]

Yes, the company tried to contact them on ACARS, but the 320 does not have a has a 30 second light which then extinguishes. [I did not know this. This, to me is a serious design flaw. In my jet, that chime is unmistakable to the ppoint if being startling, even obnoxious, for just this kind of thing.] Tim always has 121.5 tuned, but as we all know as pilots, it can get very noisy at times and we turn it down and sometimes forget to turn it back on. He told me this may have been the case. [True. And anyone who denies this is a liar.]

So there were so many factors which helped to cause this episode. Anything would have likely prevented it.....properly checking in on the new frequency would have been the first one.....[Duh.]

A note about NWA's A.O.M (I think it stands for Airman's Operation Manual), it does not say we can't use a laptop, however in Delta's A.O.M., it does, we are transitioning now and we actually have pages from both airlines. When our union showed this to the attorneys, they could not believe the confusion put on our pilot group. But, the D.C. FAA put out a new possible ruling which will disallow all stupid, don't they know Jet Blue has laptops on every aircraft and soon all
airliners will for the electronic Jepp charts. [Concur totally. This political ass-covering by the FAA. BTW, many of our jets are modified with an electronic pubs/charts system displayed on a screen off to the right/left of our seats. It's very cool and dispenses with the 500-pound Jeppeson chart bags we used to have to carry. But, it's not a "laptop," per se. Still, prohibiting the latter in the cockpit is both unnecessary and hard to enforce.]

These are the facts and again, Tim said he feels very bad for the company and pilots and is hoping for a positive outcome on their appeal. With 24 years at NWA, 21,000 blemish free hours, it would be a mistake to ruin his career over this in my opinion. [True...but an example has to be made of these miscreants!! Of course, the accountability we line swine must have is never demanded of either D.C. bureaucrats or the elected officials who fund them. They're just egged on to do SOMETHING by a mainstream media that couldn't spell "pilot," much less understand and investigate things like this, without doing more harm than good.]



That makes a lot more sense to me than just, "They had their laptops on while they were supposed to be flying." 
After what the FAA did to Bob Hoover, I lost respect for them. Up to that point, my dealings were mostly positive, only one instance to hint at the "bad" elements within the FAA. I was a student pilot in a T34 piloted by a high time pilot that had what we think was vapor lock. The engine quit, the pilot did an incredible job, dead sticked us down to safe landing at an airport. We ended up blowing the tires, so were stuck just off the side of the runway, shutting down the airport temporarly. Two FAA folks were at first very postive, long story short, once they found out the pilot was a Commercial pilot the whole tone changed.
Sounds like a plausible, and true, explanation, hiding nothing.

Hope they are able to salvage their careers.  I'd fly with them.

Sounds like another big government bureaucracy run amok.  The same sort of a$$clowns will undoubtedly be put incharge of Obamacare if it gets passed, so just think of the ways they can screw up good providers.    Maybe if the best docs take on the worst trauma cases and lose 50% they will be fired because they have more adverse outcomes than the docs who do nothing but elective boob jobs on celebrities.