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Northwest pilots prompt look at distracted flying

Northwest pilots prompt look at distracted flying

The two airline pilots who overshot their destination by 150 miles (240 kilometers) have prompted the Obama administration to broaden its look at distracted driving to include distracted flying, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday.
The use of mobile devices and laptops while driving any type of vehicle is unsafe, LaHood told a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
"We're not going to equivocate on this. Any kind of distraction, whether it's trains, planes or automobiles is a distraction and we should figure out ways to get these cell phones, the texting, ... and the use of laptops out of the hands of people who are supposed to be delivering the public to somewhere safely," LaHood said.
The pilots of Northwest Airlines Flight 188 told safety investigators they lost track of time and place while using their laptops to work out crew schedules. They said they were out of communications with air traffic controllers and their company's dispatchers for 91 minutes while cruising at 37,000 feet (11,200 meters), unaware that they had flown their Airbus 320 jet past their destination of Minneapolis in the upper Midwest until a flight attendant called them on an intercom.
The incident "raises serious safety concerns," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat and chairman of the committee.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat, noted that the Federal Aviation Administration does not specifically prohibit the use of laptop computers above 10,000 feet (3,050 meters) and asked whether the Transportation Department might regulate the use of laptops by pilots.
"I have my own ideas about this, but I'm going to work with the folks at the FAA and our department to deal with this issue," LaHood said. "We're going to take a very close look at that entire issue."
Afterward, LaHood told reporters that FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt is exploring whether there should be a uniform prohibition on the use of laptops and other personal electronic devices during flight. Some airlines already have policies governing their use.
"We can't have these kinds of distractions in the cockpit. We can't," LaHood said.
He said he has no way of knowing if the problem extends to other pilots and other airlines, "but it's very serious."
"Look, these people board planes thinking they're going to get ... to Minneapolis safely and they get off the plane and discover that there was this kind of a lapse and these guys are on laptops and whatever and we can't have that," LaHood said.
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," Rockefeller said.
The FAA said Tuesday that it had revoked the licenses of the Northwest pilots _ Timothy Cheney, the captain, and Richard Cole, the first officer. Phone messages left at the homes of the pilots were not returned.
The pilots have 10 days to appeal the revocation 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.
Delta has suspended the pilots pending a company investigation.
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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


Updated : 2021-06-17 11:31 GMT+08:00