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Northwest pilots appeal license revocation

The Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles are appealing the revocation of their licenses to fly.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles have filed appeals of their license revocations with the National Transportation Safety Board.

The appeals were filed late Wednesday, said board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz. He said that appeals typically are heard by an administrative law judge with the board within 120 days.

The Federal Aviation Administration revoked the licenses of Capt. Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Washington, and First Officer Richard Cole of Salem, Oregon, last week. The agency said the pilots put the 144 passengers of Northwest Flight 188 in serious danger on Oct. 21 when they failed to communicate with anyone on the ground for 91 minutes despite repeated attempts by air traffic controllers and their own airline to reach them.

Cheney and Cole told investigators they lost track of time and place while working on crew scheduling on their laptops. They said they didn't realize their situation until a flight attendant contacted them on the intercom to ask when the plane would be landing. By then, the Airbus A320 was over Wisconsin at 37,000 feet. The pilots turned the plane around and landed safely in Minneapolis.

Attorneys for the pilots didn't immediately reply to requests for comment on Thursday.

The incident raised national security concerns. Senior White House officials were notified by the White House situation room during the incident. Fighter jets in two locations were moments away from taking off to track down the errant airliner when contact was re-established.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced a bill Thursday to ban nonessential electronics, including personal laptops, from the cockpit.

"We simply want to ensure that, with all of the electronic distractions available these days, flying the plane remains the their one and only focus," Menendez said in a statement.

Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Randy Babbitt said Wednesday that the Northwest incident is the result of an erosion of professionalism among commercial airline pilots.

"I think that this is a sign of a much bigger problem," Babbitt said in a speech to an aviation club. "I can't regulate professionalism. With everything we know about human factors, there are still those who just ignore the commonsense rules of safety."