- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

It was someone else’s fault, they both agree.

The two Northwest pilots who overflew their destination by more than 100 miles have filed documents with the federal government that blame air traffic control and the aircraft’s design.

And the co-pilot is even blaming the pilot.

Capt. Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Wash., and First Officer Richard I. Cole of Salem, Ore., initially said they had been distracted by their laptop computers. But the two men, both 54, are appealing the suspension of their pilot licenses and filed documents Nov. 24 with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that blamed a host of other factors, mostly technical ones, for the Oct. 21 incident.

However, Mr. Cole goes a step further in his response to the NTSB by blaming his partner.

“Respondent reasonably relied on the performance of the pilot flying, who was the pilot in command, in meeting his required duties and responsibilities, justifying a reduction, mitigation, or waiver of sanction,” Mr. Cole’s response said.

The Air Line Pilots Association is representing both pilots, though through separate lawyers, in their objection to the suspension of their licenses.

The pilots were also suspended by Northwest’s parent company, Delta Air Lines, after they flew their Airbus A320 past the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and were out of radio contact for 77 minutes. Flight 188 from San Diego International Airport was carrying 144 passengers; no injuries were reported and the flight landed without incident.

The pilots said they lost track of time while they were consulting their schedules on their laptop computer.

In their response to the government charges, the pilots say they did not “willfully violate any federal aviation regulations” and that the Federal Aviation Administration overreacted in its decision to pull their licenses.

“The air traffic controller(s) did not comply with the requirements of the air traffic control manual and other relevant orders, rules, procedures, policies and practices with respect to Northwest Flight 188, nor coordinate effectively with Northwest dispatch, and such failure was a causal or contributing factor in the incident,” the pilots said.

“There were mitigating facts and circumstances that caused or contributed to the incident, including but not limited to aircraft systems design and human factors,” they said.

The two men are experienced pilots without any previous incidents or violations. Mr. Cheney had about 20,000 hours of flying time, and Mr. Cole about 11,000 - in both cases, about half of the hours were with the Airbus A320.

An NTSB administrative law judge will hear the appeals, at a date yet to be determined.

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