Wayward NWA Pilots and Business Execution

While I’m sure the 2 pilots who were apparently too busy paying attention to their laptops to pay attention to flying an Airbus A320 this past week and flew by the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport by 150 miles have serious regrets about their actions, their behavior is reprehensible.

The FAA has suspended their licenses and Delta has committed that they will be terminated for their actions.  It is hard to argue for anything less.

These gentlemen were out of contact with controllers for 78 minutes.  Due to their lack of response, there was a real concern that the plane may have been hijacked.  Even the White House was alerted to this transgression while the event was in progress.

When I fly United, I always listen to the cockpit radio communications.  If you have not listened to it before, a pilot would be hard pressed to not have to communicate every 10 or 15 minutes along a route and much, much more on departure from and on approach to an airport. Air traffic control is constantly making slight route or altitude adjustments, handing off from one control center to another, etc.

78 minutes is an absolute eternity to not be paying attention while flying over US air space.

While I feel badly for anyone who loses a job and for their families, these pilots exposed themselves and their passengers to extraordinary risk.  They deserve to lose their jobs.

That said, these 2 knuckleheads would likely never again be so cavalier again in flight management.  Perhaps another airline should give them another chance (assuming the FAA will license them to fly again).  They are seasoned veterans who made a horrible business execution error.

What do you think?

Dave Gardner, Gardner & Associates Consulting



2 Responses to Wayward NWA Pilots and Business Execution

  1. Doug Edgar says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking post, Dave.

    If indeed they fell asleep (the most likely scenario) then perhaps this is a symptom of a greater problem. I’m rather certain that they didn’t decide to take a nap mid-flight but fell asleep involuntarily. It’s surely not the first time pilots have succumbed to the sandman.

    As someone who often flies United just so I can listen in on the cockpit, I’ve thought about how boring it must be sitting there for hours on end with nothing to do but answer an occasional radio call. Anyone who has ever started to nod off while driving can imagine how easy it would be for a pilot, hypnotized by the wind noise and the tranquil skies at 35,000 feet, to fall asleep.

    Falling asleep is not acceptable but pilots are human machines like the rest of us. If we expect perfection we will be disappointed. Much of airline safety is founded on redundancy and contingencies that make it possible to recover from mistakes and malfunctions because pilots and equipment are not infallible. Perhaps we need to see the possibility of pilots falling asleep in that light.

    I am reconsidering my first instinct which is that they should never fly again and am moving toward your hint that they could be the safest pilots ever to fly with in future. They’ll be Starbucks best customers from now on.



  2. Dave says:

    Thanks for your comment, Doug. I think we have to go by the facts as presented. While I agree that my thoughts were also that the pilots likely fell asleep, that has never been affirmed though I agree it makes a lot more sense.
    Dave Gardner


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