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US airline pilots prompt look at distracted flying

US airline pilots prompt look at distracted flying

The two airlines pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles (240 kilometers) have prompted the U.s. Transportation Department to expand its distracted driving initiative to include "distracted flying," a spokeswoman for the department said Wednesday.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is concerned about "distractions as they apply beyond cars _ to rail, buses, and now, planes," Jill Zuckman told The Associated Press.
The Obama administration and lawmakers have already expressed interest in targeting distracted driving, including the use of mobile devices while behind the wheel. LaHood held a summit meeting in September that brought together researchers, regulators and other experts on distracted driving.
A group of senators proposed legislation on Wednesday that would offer incentive grants to states that approve laws to combat distracted driving.
"Texting takes your eyes off the road _ long enough at high speeds to travel the length of a football field," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who leads the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
During a hearing on distracted driving before Rockefeller's committee, LaHood did not immediately address the Northwest pilots but noted "the problem is not just confined to vehicles on our roads _ it affects all modes of transportation."
The Northwest Airlines pilots told safety investigators they were using their laptops to work out crew schedules for more than an hour last week while flying their Airbus 320 past their destination of Minneapolis, Minnesota in the upper Midwest. The pilots acknowledged losing track of time and place for 91 minutes while air traffic controllers and their airline's dispatchers tried vainly to reach them, federal authorities said.
Rockefeller, whose committee oversees the Federal Aviation Administration, said the incident "raises serious safety concerns."
The FAA said Tuesday that it had revoked the licenses of the pilots of Northwest flight 188 _ Timothy Cheney, the captain, and Richard Cole, the first officer.
The pilots have 10 days to appeal to the three-member National Transportation Safety Board, the same agency that investigates air crashes and makes safety recommendations. If an appeal fails, they can apply for a new license after one year.
The pilots violated numerous federal regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating their aircraft carelessly and recklessly, FAA said.
"You engaged in conduct that put your passengers and your crew in serious jeopardy," FAA regional counsel Eddie Thomas wrote Cheney in a letter accompanying the revocation order. "NW188 was without communication with any air traffic control facility and with its company dispatcher for a period of 91 minutes (over 1.5 hours) while you were on a frolic of your own. Failing to comply with ATC clearances or instructions while engaged in air carrier operations is extremely reckless."
A similar letter was sent to Cole.
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AP Airlines Writer Joshua Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
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On the Net:
http://www.faa.gov
http://www.ntsb.gov