Northwest Airlines Flight 188
A Northwest Airbus A320 similar to the one used for Flight 188
|Date||October 21, 2009|
|Summary||Pilot distraction and error|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A320-212|
|Flight origin||San Diego International Airport|
|Destination||Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport|
Northwest Airlines Flight 188 was a regularly scheduled flight from San Diego, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota on October 21, 2009. The flight landed over one hour late in Minneapolis after overshooting its destination by over 150 miles (240 km) because of pilot errors. As a result of this incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the pilot certificates of the involved pilots and the National Transportation Safety Board issued recommendations to air traffic control procedures and changes in the rules for cockpit crew and air traffic controllers. The incident also caused American lawmakers to move to prevent pilots on U.S. airliners from using electronic devices while taxiing or flying. Changes to flight deck automation have also been suggested as a result of the incident and prototype designs that could mitigate errors leading to similar incidents have been described.
The Airbus A320 took off from San Diego International Airport at 5:01 p.m. CDT (3:01 pm in San Diego). It was scheduled to land at 8:01 p.m. CDT. Just under two hours earlier, at 6:56 p.m. CDT, Air Traffic Control lost radio contact with the aircraft while it was over Denver. Air traffic controllers at both Denver ARTCC (where contact was lost) and Minneapolis ARTCC made several unsuccessful attempts to reach the pilots. When other pilots in the area got word of the situation, they tried to help the controllers and attempted to raise the pilots as well. Northwest also sent them a radio text message, which went unanswered. Authorities were concerned enough that NORAD readied fighter jets to check on the welfare of the plane. Officials at the White House Situation Room were also alerted as well.
Just as the fighter jets were about to scramble, air traffic control at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport reestablished radio contact with the plane at 8:14 p.m. CDT, by which time the flight was over Eau Claire, Wisconsin, roughly 100 miles (160 km) east of Minneapolis. Captain Timothy Cheney and first officer Richard Cole said that they weren't aware of their location until a flight attendant asked them what time they were due to land. The overshoot concerned air traffic controllers enough that they had the pilots perform a series of maneuvers to confirm the pilots were in control of the plane, as well as to verify that the transponder target they were receiving on their radar was indeed flight 188. The aircraft finally landed, over an hour late, at 9:04 p.m. CDT.
During the investigation, Cheney and Cole told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that they were going over schedules using their laptop computers—a serious breach of piloting fundamentals, as well as a violation of Delta Air Lines policy (Delta had recently merged with Northwest). The pilots denied suggestions from some aviation safety experts that they had fallen asleep.
In the United States, the FAA prohibits pilots from taking short naps, but airlines from other countries allow short naps while outside of U.S. airspace. These airlines include British Airways, Qantas, and Air France. The cockpit voice recorder was removed from the aircraft, but there was only 30 minutes' worth of information. Over an hour's worth of information would have been needed for all of the information of the portion of the flight past Minneapolis to be available.
On October 27, 2009, the FAA revoked the pilots' certificates. The FAA found that Cheney and Cole were out of radio contact with air traffic controllers for more than an hour and a half while on a "frolic." It cited the pilots for acting in "total dereliction and disregard" for their duties. Among other things, the FAA found that the pilots failed to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operated the plane in a careless and reckless manner. The incident and subsequent investigation have led to some changes in the rules for cockpit crew and air traffic controllers.
- Ahlers, Mike (5 March 2010). "Pilots who overflew airport drop attempt to keep licenses". CNN. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
- "NTSB Says Northwest Pilots' Distraction led to Overflight of Minneapolis, Notes ATC Shortcomings; Issues Recommendations on ATC Procedures" (Press release). National Transportation Safety Board. 2010-03-18. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
- "Northwest Flight 188 Pilots Will Not Get Their Jobs Back". Aero-News Network. 2010-06-17. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
- "Airline safety flight issues could be mitigated by better user interface". Science Daily. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
- Geiselman, E. E.; Johnson, C. M.; Buck, D. R.; Patrick, T. (25 October 2013). "Flight Deck Automation: A Call for Context-Aware Logic to Improve Safety". Ergonomics in Design. 21 (4): 13–18. doi:10.1177/1064804613489126.
- Northwest Airlines 188 (NWA188) flight track
- FAA releases recordings of wayward jet. CNN, 2009-11-27.
- NTSB: Wayward pilots were working on laptops. Associated Press via MSNBC, 2009-10-26
- "Could pilots soon be napping in the cockpit? (Includes interview)". Digitaljournal.com. 2009-10-17. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
- Associated, The (2009-10-25). "After flight mishap, naps seen as helpful". News OK. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
- "Report: Stray jet's pilots were on laptops". CNN.com. Retrieved 2014-03-03.
- "Pilots of wayward jet lose licenses". CNN. 2009-10-27.
- Matthew L. Wald (2009-11-13). "Controllers Were Slow to Notify Defense Command of Errant Jet".
- Northwest Airlines flight leads to probe of pilot professionalism
- The inside story of Northwest 188 plus, Congress gets it right, for once: Tough new hiring rules for airlines and pilots
- Submission of Delta Air Lines To the National Transportation Safety Board
- Submission of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to the National Transportation Safety Board Regarding the Incident Involving Northwest 188 on October 21, 2009
- Project Information NTSB Accident ID DCA10IA001