Friday, October 23, 2009

Northwest Flight 188 Overshoots MSP - Time to Reconsider Humans on Flight Crews?

"Northwest Flight Misses MSP Airport" (October 22, 2009)

"Were you on flight 188? Call us @ 952-946-5767"

"The NTSB is investigating a case of distracted pilots at the controls after a Northwest Airlines flight overshot the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by about 150 miles.

"According to the National Transportation Safety Board, Northwest Flight 188 from San Diego to Minneapolis lost radio contact with air-traffic controllers around 6:56 p.m. CDT on Wednesday. The Airbus A320, cruising at 37,000 feet, was carrying 144 passengers and five crew, said Delta.

"At 7:58 p.m. CDT, the plane flew over MSP Airport and continued northeast for approximately 150 miles. The MSP air traffic controller reestablished communications with the crew at 8:14 p.m. and said that the crew had become distracted and had overflown MSP, and requested to return to Minneapolis..."

The pilots apparently were discussing airline policy while the autopilot kept the airliner safe - 37,000 feet over the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport.

I'm heartily grateful that one of the crew stayed focused.

Maybe it's time to start thinking about banning humans from critical decision-making positions: although AI research and development hasn't produced robots capable of matching the best human decision-making. (I'm only half-joking about this: September 8, 2009, April 25, 2009, April 7, 2008, March 3, 2008, October 11, 2007)

123-Foot Cruise Missile Targets American City

This isn't, putting it mildly, the point in history when it's a good idea for an American airliner's crew to aim at a metropolitan area, go on autopilot, and stop responding to traffic control.

The Airbus A320 wasn't designed as a cruise missile, but neither were the airliners that took down New York City's World Trade Center and put a hole in the Pentagon, back in 2001. Even after a flight from Denver, I'd guess that Flight 188 had enough fuel on board to turn the IDS Tower into a torch.

Which helps explain the American military's response:

"...Military fighter jets in two locations were on alert after communication was lost with the NWA plane. Pilots were in the jets on the tarmacs, fueled up and waiting for orders...."

I'm pretty sure the pilots would have tried communicating with those nincompoops in the cockpit, before getting orders to shoot the Airbus down. We've been through something like this before. ("Six Years Ago, Tomorrow: Remembering 9/11," Another War-on-Terror Blog (September 10, 2007), excerpt about Flight 85)

The FOX9 article includes a link to the Flight Track Log at

If Flight 188's flight crew decides to defend their right to put the lives of their cabin crew and passengers in danger, things could get interesting. That particular Airbus had an older cockpit voice recorder: one that only retains the last 30 minutes of cockpit chatter. (FOXNews) So the pilots could play dumb.

"Apathetic"? I've discussed this earlier today.

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