Nightly News   |  October 27, 2009

FAA revokes licenses of wayward pilots

Oct. 27: The FAA Tuesday pulled the pilots' licenses from the captain and first officer who were in the cockpit of the Northwest flight that overflew the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles. NBC's Tom Costello reports.

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>>> in the story of that northwest airlines flight from san diego to minneapolis that overshot its destination, tonight the faa has revoked the pilot's licenses from both the captain and the first officer who were in the cockpit. nbc's tom costello has more on this now from washington. tom, good evening.

>> hi, ann, good evening to you. the fact that flight 188 was out of contact with radio air traffic controllers for a better part of an hour and 20 minutes is a very big deal . the faa says that these two veteran pilots with 31,000 hours between them failed to keep their plane and operate it in a safe manner. six days after northwest flight 188 raised concern among air traffic controllers and even in the white house situation room , the faa today said both pilots will lose their license, effective immediately. in a statement the faa cited violations of a number of regulations, including failing to comply with air traffic control instructions and clearances and operating carelessly and recklessly. former ntsb investigator greg final isn't surprised.

>> this is the most severe punishment that can be taken against a pilot. revoking of the certificate, that jeopardizes not only their -- their ability to fly an airplane but now it jeopardizes their career because these are professional pilots.

>> reporter: it was last friday when first officer richard cole first talked to reporters.

>> nobody was asleep in the cockpit. and no arguments took place.

>> reporter: since then, both cole and captain timothy cheney have told investigators that they were on their personal laptops looking at the new crew scheduling system at delta air lines , which just bought northwest airlines . the crew admits they did not monitor the airplane or radio calls, and they admitted they lost track of time. it wasn't until a flight attendant called the cockpit that the crew realized they had already flown over their destination of minneapolis and had to turn back. this crew has exactly ten days to appeal the faa 's decision. they have to do it to the ntsb, which is still investigating the incident. meanwhile, they've been suspended by delta air lines and delta indicates they're likely to be fired. ann?

>> tom costello tonight. tom, thanks.

>>> today president obama used a