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Controllers faulted on errant jet

November 14, 2009|Reuters

Air traffic controllers were slow to notify the military when they lost contact with a Northwest Airlines jet for more than an hour last month, the top U.S. aviation regulator said Friday.

"We should have been more agile. We can do a better job," Federal Aviation Administration chief Randy Babbitt said about the Oct. 21 incident.

The FAA has revoked the licenses of the two pilots for losing contact with air controllers and then overflying their destination by 150 miles on a flight from San Diego to Minneapolis. The plane, with 144 passengers aboard, landed safely in Minneapolis.

The crew of the Airbus A320, which has appealed the FAA action, said they lost track of time while discussing company policy and using personal laptop computers in the cockpit.

The government established a process after the 2001 terrorist attacks for notifying U.S. and Canadian military authorities when they suspect a serious problem with an airliner or when planes violate restricted airspace.

Babbitt said air controllers, dispatchers at Delta Air Lines, which owns Northwest, and other pilots tried to contact the crew by radio for more than an hour.

The FAA is supposed to notify military authorities when an airliner loses contact for 10 minutes. Almost an hour lapsed before supervisors took that step, the FAA said.

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