Northwest over flight (lost communication)

Posted on 26. Oct, 2009 by in Airline Safety, Blog, Featured

Northwest Airlines jet

I’ve had endless questions on Northwest’s lost communication and over flight of Minneapolis.  After hearing yet another “expert” jabber incoherently on cable, I’ll try and clear a few things up.   First, it is not unusual for an aircraft to go “lost comm” with control centers.  Especially in the west where radios can stay quiet for a long time.  An aircraft can fly out of range of a frequency, the pilots can miss the frequency switch, a stuck microphone can in effect jam the frequency or an equipment failure can occur. 


What was unusual was the over flight.  That means the crew missed the visual and aural cues.  Why?  At this point it is speculation; however the profile is similar to the GO flight in Hawaii, where the NTSB determined the crew fell asleep due to fatigue.   Fatigue is not limited to just falling asleep.  A general loss of SA (situational awareness) also is symptomatic of fatigue.  As the Delta flight that landed on a taxiway showed last week, it surfaces when things do not go according to plan.  An in flight emergency, frequency change, any distraction can cause a loss of SA to a fatigued crew. 


Standard industry contracts allowed airline crews to fly no more than a hard 75 hours ten or fifteen years ago.  After 911 most contracts were ravaged in bankruptcy proceedings, allowing crews at some airlines to go to 100 flight hours a month.  Factor in the average age of the cockpit crew and fatigue becomes a real concern.  Soon the major airlines will have more pilots in their 60’s than in their 40’s.  There are virtually no pilots in their 20’s anymore and only a handful in their 30’s at most legacy carriers.  In short you have a pilot group that is easier to fatigue, due to age, flying more hours a month than crews have flown in generations.

No Responses to “Northwest over flight (lost communication)”

  1. Rick 26 October 2009 at 16:31 #

    First, thank you for addressing this. By now I’m sure you’ve read or heard the NTSB says they were using their laptops to figure out scheduling, and the first officer was giving the CPT a tutalage on this subject.

    Irregardless, it’s why I feel night flying is a major added risk factor. How could they have missed Lake Superior in daylight is my first question. Knowledgeable passengers would have seen it also.

  2. Rick 31 October 2009 at 13:24 #

    Surprised no more comments on this. Do you think these two will get re-instated at some point? FYI I’m in the KSUS area until Thursday this week.

  3. Rick 9 November 2009 at 15:15 #

    What is your take on FAA looking at permitting napping in the cockpit? On the surface, to me, I would be a bit nervous about that. Must consider the possibility of the guy actually flying might also nod off because lack of conversational stimulus. Just wondering your thoughts on the subject.

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