WASHINGTON -- Two Northwest Airlines pilots who got distracted and overshot the Minneapolis airport have agreed not to fight the revocations of their licenses but could fly again under an agreement they reached with federal authorities on Monday.
Under the settlement released by the Federal Aviation Administration, Timothy Cheney and Richard Cole can apply for new licenses Aug. 29, more than 10 months after they flew an Airbus A320 with 144 passengers about 100 miles past Minneapolis before discovering their mistake over Wisconsin.
Cheney, the captain of Flight 188, and Cole, the first officer, told investigators they became distracted and lost track of time last Oct. 21 as they were working on their laptop computers on a complicated crew scheduling program they had to learn after Delta Air Lines Inc. acquired Northwest a year earlier.
They told investigators they were unaware that air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers had been struggling to make radio contact with them for more than an hour, or that the military was readying fighter jets for an intercept mission. They finally realized what they'd done after a flight attendant called on the intercom to ask when they were landing. Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the pilots remain suspended pending the completion of Delta's own investigation of the incident. He said their settlement with the FAA has no bearing on that probe, and he wouldn't speculate on their future with Delta pending the completion of the airline's inquiry.
Linda Shotwell, a spokeswoman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said the union and pilots declined to comment. Cheney, of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Cole, of Salem, Ore. did not immediately return phone messages left at their home numbers. Cheney's attorney referred a call to Shotwell, while Cole's attorney did not immediately return a call. Both attorneys work for the pilots' union.
Delta suspended Cheney and Cole shortly after the incident, and the FAA revoked their licenses Oct. 27.
According to the agreement, the pilots will be eligible to apply for new airmen certificates at 12:01 a.m. Aug. 29. In the meantime, it says, they can fly with qualified instructors and take the tests required to qualify for their required licenses. Once they have been issued their commercial multi-engine and instrument ratings, it says, they can go to Delta or a certified flight school to receive simulator training to regain their airline transport pilot and aircraft type certificates.
The agreement stipulates that the settlement isn't an admission by the pilots that they did anything wrong. It says the pilots and FAA wanted to resolve the case without the risks of litigation and that the pilots agreed to it "in the interest of avoiding further publicity."
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