FAA Revokes Northwest Pilots' Licenses

Pilots told NTSB they were distracted by conversation, working on laptops.

ByABC News
October 26, 2009, 4:02 PM

Oct. 27, 2009— -- The two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot their airport had their pilots' licenses revoked today by the Federal Aviation Administration for failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly.

The revocations are effective immediately and the pilots have 10 days to appeal the emergency revocations to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Capt. Timothy B. Cheney and First Officer Richard I. Cole, who missed the airport by 150 miles last week, were apparently using their personal laptops to review scheduling as air traffic controllers repeatedly tried to reach them, according to the NTSB.

The use of personal laptops in the cockpit violates airline policy, according to the NTSB, which issued a statement Monday on the incident after interviewing the pilots.

"This explanation that they were both engrossed, working on their computers -- that was admission that no one was in control of the flight," John Wiley, a retired pilot and a writer for Aviation Week, told ABC News. "That's unacceptable. Sure, you can be bored, but ... part of the job is learning that you have to stay involved with the airplane."

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Passengers are being offered $500 rebates. The plane landed safely.

Cheney had a perfect flight record before the overshooting incident, logging more hours in the air than Chesley Sullenberger, who "miraculously" landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River earlier this year.

ABC News Aviation analyst John Nance told "Good Morning America" today that there's no justification for the pilots to miss attempts by air traffic control to reach them for more than an hour.

"When you disconnect so far ... that you aren't even seeing those instruments ... that's a very worrisome thing," Nance said. "These fellas had totally disconnected."

Even if they hadn't been listening to air traffic controllers, Nance said, the instruments on the plane would have showed the pilots they had veered from the flight plan had they looked.

"This raises a systemic problem," he said. "Is this happening more often than not?"