Bing Blog

Northwest Pilots and the FAA: Snoozing or Cruising?

Sleeping Pilot

The Case of the Northwest Pilots keeps getting funnier and funnier. Of course, it wouldn't be one bit amusing if it had happened to me, but as Woody Allen once said, when I get a hangnail, it's tragedy;  when you fall down the stairs, it's comedy. Or maybe it wasn't Woody Allen. Maybe it was Paul Allen. Or Herb. Sorry. Just thinking about those two in the cockpit doing... what was it they were doing?... makes my mind wander.

As you know, original speculation was that the pilots were taking their semi-approved staggered naps simultaneously. This made sense to me. Flying one of those big planes is almost as boring as running a business meeting. Once the thing is up in the air, you set the automatic controls, lean back and wait for it to be over. It's my estimate that fully 63% of all business people have at one time or another copped a parcel of Z's when the gears of the machine were grinding. Why shouldn't pilots? Okay, I can think of a lot of reasons why not and I'm sure you can too. But the idea that these guys slept through their wake up alarm and allowed their enormous vehicle to drift over the landing zone didn't seem far-fetched.

Yesterday I heard that the somnolence theory has now been supplanted by the story that the two were cruising the web and lost track of the time. This summons up a couple of images to my mind. I'm thinking they weren't just Googling. I'm willing to bet that if they were online, it was some kind of World of Warcraft thing. As good as YouTube or Wikipedia might be, you don't lose yourself in it the way you do when a Orc is about to hammer in your brain pan and send you back sixteen levels. There they are, 37,000 feet up, a planeful of people behind them, whacking away at their joysticks in some digital dungeon? I can buy that. In the days I was addicted to DOOM, I used to spend the entire night blasting away at hideous monsters, so in the zone that I didn't realize that the sun had risen until my wife came in to tell me it was time to go to work. So maybe that's what they were doing when they were out of touch for 78 minutes. As an explanation, it still seems pretty lame to me. Maybe one was sleeping and the other was earning experience points as a Zarkon warrior or something like that.

Anyway you slice it, though, it points to a breakdown in the system somewhere. Now it turns out it wasn't just the snoozy (boozy?) gamer/pilot dudes who are in hot water. The air traffic controllers and the FAA, which is supposed to regulate such things, were egregiously late in notifying the military of the wayward Northwest flight to Minneapolis. The information that a flight has essentially gone out of the blue and into the black is supposed to be conveyed in about 10 minutes time. It took at least 40 minutes for the news to be conveyed upward to the guys who monitor our skies. Doesn't generate a whole lot of confidence, does it?

All of this is capped off by the news that the pilot's union is unhappy with the fact that the FAA has revoked the licenses of the pilots in question and is now preparing a response. I'll be interested to see it.

21 Comments Add Comment

nowai on the wow dude 2muchlag on wireless

At A southern International Airport, back in the 60s, an incident happened: Supposedly the pilot was preparing the flight engineer to become a pilot.

The engineer was preparing to land, in doing so, he forgot to put the landing gear down.

The crew on the third shift was mystified by the spark parade on the runway as the ship slid on its belly toward the terminal.

The owner was quick to put wrapping paper suported with masking tape to cover the owner's identity.

Slowly the error of the airways trickled out to the airport personnel; then to the man on the street. I believe champagne flights were in vogue in those days.

A WWII popular song went something like this: "Wait till you get them in the air boys, wait till you get them...........".

You know what's even more interesting than WoW? Sex and gambling. Do Orcs gamble, are there bachelor parties in Second Life? Now that's dangerous stuff.

I can't get that image from "Airplane" out of my head, with the blow-up Otto pilot smoking a cigarette after having been re-inflated by Elaine.

Airplanes are so computarized that it's OK if they snooze all journey and just command the ship during landing. Really we are safest that way.


I bet they were trying to program their universal remotes: This would never happen if we still had open cockpits.

Damn, Bing! Was that a Neil Young reference? From the same album:

Shelter me from my sleepin
Northwest flight crew....
Cover me with some
scrambled fighter jets.

Think of me
as one you never figured,
to visit the land of cheese,
Wausau not MSP,
How the hell can this be?
Is this any way
to run a frickin airline?

Doo Doo Doo Doo Do do do do.

Live Rust! The best live set since
Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!

What's next?

Andre Agassi smokin crystal meth?

Bing, say it ain't so.

Yeah it would probably be funny if I did not fly all the time. I do see them getting so caught up in their laptops that they lost track of time so much. I think like many others they were sleeping. I also see today the military was never informed, but what baffles me is how come air traffic control did not try to contract them during the 91 minutes they received no contact from the flight.

FAA perpetually blames the victim, and NTSB covers for FAA. FAA is still the same “Tombstone Agency” decried by former USDOT Inspector General Mary Schiavo in her Congressional testimony years ago. Though presidential administrations changed within the last year, we now know that college drop-out J. Randall (Randy) Babbitt is as much of an abject aviation safety failure as his ignoble FAA Administrator predecessors Bobby Sturgell, Lynne Osmus, and Marion Blakey. There remains no meaningful regulation of aviation safety in this country - just an aero-mercantile puppet like Randy Babbitt acting at the behest of the airlines, ATA, and fat aero-contractors. Like a caddy. Like a Fendi. Like a submissive. Babbitt’s FAA “fines” airlines and then cuts the “fines” to pennies on the dollar in the same breath. In turn, Babbitt’s aeromerc masters will make certain that Babbitt and others in FAA management have a green-paper feathered nest upon their exit from the agency. That’s the deal. Babbitt’s recent protestations notwithstanding, FAA and Babbitt continue to blame everyone but themselves to deflect and distract attention from their cozy private-dancer status with their true customers the airlines, vendors, and other aeromercs. The American people are sick of it, and applaud the courage of those people and communities who stand up for what is right.
John J. Tormey III, Esq.
Quiet Rockland

Hey, Bing. Perhaps they were reading the Bing Blog. The great subject matter and all those witty comments could have kept them busy all the way to London!

These poor guys were just multi-tasking. How do you increase productivity and thus GDP at a time of decreased headcount? By getting more work done. How do you get more work done with less people? People have to man-up and do more tasks at the same time. That's right multi-tasking. Since the government announced positive GDP and thus the end of the recession these men are heros. They have multi-tasked our way out of the recession. When you're all enjoying your fat bonuses and champaign celebrations raise a glass to the brave multi-taskers and new economy warriors. It's to them you owe that six figure bonus.

I used to start playing Doom in the office after work. I would start around six or seven and, next thing you know, it was 2 A.M. Happend all the time.

The FAA notification problem can be solved with one simple act: dock everyone that shares responsibility for the delayed notification 1 weeks pay, and this will never happen again. Much better way to enforce than hearings, job actions, etc. Simple and immediately effective.

Force them to accept flight attendant jobs.

It's time to make Northwest the official airline of America's CEO's; same proud modus operandi...'asleep at the wheel'.

As a fellow Doomer, I can relate to the missed time, it passes quickly when you are taking down the bad guys.

The FAA may have given them a pass if they were on the flight simulator.

Perhaps they should have said that the simulator is on level three and they were just about to take the fortress and get to it.

This snoozing/cruising problem has to be declared a pandemic, at least in the US, worst than the porky flu:

-It happened to the Bush administration during the 2nd term.
-It happened to the mighty, supra-intelligent people in AEG, Merryl, BofA, Lewdman (yes, as in lewd) Brothers, et al.
-it happened to Barnacles, from the fed.
-Congress does it since the 60's.
-The US auto industry titans are just coming out of it, it seems.
-It happened to the US steel industry, but they crashed.

They either fell sleep while piloting or they were just cruisin' along,, something is happening, might be a virus, it warrants an investigation.

How about the Qantas pilots who forget to lower the landing gear?!,28124,26302353-233...

I would think that someone of your stature and position might do more research and gather the facts before you start spouting from the pen, but then being a self acclaimed expert on nothing, you expose yourself for what you are and do not know... another idiot with an audience.

Although it is very rare in our profession to make mistakes, it does happen and it usually takes a series of events to line up for the error to occur and for you and the 65,000 people in the air in one hour a day over the US, that is a pretty admirable performance record, unlike the medical profession who seem to think it is ok to lose thousands of lives under their care a year. That fact should make your pen run out of ink.

When you get the facts on the case, you will hopefully be man enough to admit your mistake and become educated before you open your mouth next time. They were not sleeping, not surfing the net, nor had they been boozin...

These pilots lost their licenses, which was revoked by their former ALPA National President, now the head of the FAA and his pension is paid by these two and thousands of other professional pilots, well before having their due process afforded to them by the law. If the ice that pilots tread on is that thin that they can loose their livelihood that easy, then they deserve more money for the risks they take every day they fly.

They were tried by you and yours in the media before their day in court. That is the only fact that is obvious here.

As we say in the business... he who knows not, shows not... just by opening his mouth... in your case.. picking up and moving your pen.

One behalf of the thousands of professional pilots in this country... sit down, put your seat belt on and keep your feet off the seat in front of you...

get your facts straight before you start to spout off acting like an expert.