Friday, October 30, 2009

Voices in the Sky

What an awful way to lose your livelihood. One moment you have a fine career. The next moment your own foolishness has cost you your fine job with its fine salary which has been paying for your fine home and taking care of your fine family! I have to say, that in spite of their stupidity on the job, the very thought of the pain they are experiencing makes me wince. That is not to say that they weren't terribly derelict in their duty.

I'm talking about the pilots of that commercial airliner that overshot Minneapolis last week. The crew of flight 188 was out of communication for considerable time despite repeated attempts by air traffic controllers in two states AND by Northwest's dispatchers to reach the airliner. Apparently they were busy on their laptops...figuring out their work schedules. I guess they won't be worrying about work for awhile.

I flew United on a recent trip to Oregon. My itinerary included a hop from Omaha to Denver, then from Denver to Portland, returning about ten days later. On United a pair of head phones is tucked into the pocket on the back of the seat in front of every passenger. With the head phones, one can tune in to the movie, listen to music, or hear communication between the air traffic controller and the United pilot. I tuned to the "traffic control" channel and listened in "real time". Controllers speak really,really fast. How the pilots can understand them is beyond me for my feeble brain had a difficult time catching what they were saying. But it was fascinating, nevertheless, to hear the chatter. (You can listen lived to controllers at various airports HERE.)

Air Traffic Control works somewhat like this...the controller in the local tower moves the pilot to the runway and to takeoff. Some short time after that pilot is handed off to a controller who moves him across country. When he nears his destination the local tower there guides and instructs him through the landing.

When I heard the news of the Northwest pilots who overshot Minneapolis I wondered if any passengers were listening to the ATC channel. If so they must have wondered why there was no communication between their pilot and ANYBODY. I suppose if it had been me, I would have just figured the silence was simply the headphones not working.

At any rate...these guys will not be flying again soon. And they cannot blame the economy on the loss of their jobs.

Makes me wince. I've kicked myself many times for having made stupid decisions but I can't imagine how hard these guys must be kicking themselves. It must be incredibly painful.

There is one good aspect to this incident and that is that everyone landed safely. Thank God for that.



Kelly said...

It is a good thing that this incident ended with no harm (other than their loss of jobs).

Pilots AND controllers should ALWAYS be on alert!! This reminded me of a time years ago when I was working on getting my single engine aircraft pilot's license. I was on the required "long" cross-country flight and was headed to my last destination before returning home. The controllers at that tower put me on a course then promptly forgot about me. I could see the airport as I approached then passed it. When I contacted them it was obvious what had happened and I could hear them laughing in the background. I was nervous enough already, so that didn't help things. I hadn't thought about that indident in years until this came up in the news.

supplies overflowing! said...

I think that the recent crash between a helicopter and a small plane in the NY area (I should remember where this was) was because someone was on a cell phone, and when cordinates went out, there was a miscomunication in the numbers. I have heard recordings, and like you, I have wondered how they keep the numbers straight. But if you think about it, there must be typical codes that the pilots and controllers use at specific airports. I don't know...

Laurie M. said...

It is only by the grace of God they all came out of that in one piece.

I'm in no way speaking in defense of these negligent pilots, but as an aside, these days they are ridiculously over worked and severely underpaid, meaning as little as $20,000 a year (commuter pilots have it the worst). It's not the "glamor" job it used to be.