DETROIT — Northwest Airlines mechanics at Detroit Metropolitan Airport have been told to push airplanes ready for departure a foot or more away from a gate to increase on-time performance, company officials said.
A memo carrying the name of Lou Boynton, Northwest's line maintenance director, said airplanes that have loaded all passengers and baggage should be pushed back from its gate by at least a foot while awaiting clearance to leave.
"This will get us 'on-time' departures," the memo said.
The rule became effective Thursday. In October, the federal government ranked Northwest's departure performance as among the worst in the nation.
The memo is "intended to put focus where we want it to be, and that's get planes out on time," said William Wren, the company's vice president for public relations.
"There is absolutely nothing irregular about this," he added. "We are trying to impress our personnel to be ready for published departure. You are ready for departure when the plane is loaded, fueled and away from the gate."
Wren refused to say whether similar instructions have been given at other Northwest hubs.
"The point is that we want the airlines to depart on schedule," he said Friday. "Getting it started with a push back is the proper place to start."
Once a plane leaves a gate, its movements are the responsibility of Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers for taxiing and takeoff.
"This is an effort by Northwest to make its on-time performance look good," said Con Hitchcock, legal director for the Aviation Consumer Action Project in Washington, a group formed by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.
"They can say they left the gate on time, but couldn't get off the ground," Hitchcock said.
When asked if the intent of the policy was to put blame for late departures on controllers, Wren said, "Absolutely not."
"If you move the plane a foot, you're ready and waiting for continuous push-back," he said. "And when it comes time to go, we'll be ready."