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Minnesota Opinion: On pilot concentration: See!? Told ya we weren't sleeping!

That's the potential reaction of the one Northwest Airlines pilot who spoke to the media in the wake of the "airport overshoot" heard around the world recently in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Everyone, it seemed, assumed that the two pilots were sound asleep, and that's why they flew 150 miles past the airport and into Wisconsin, and that's why they, for 91 minutes, didn't respond to repeated radio requests to acknowledge they were awake, alive and hadn't been hijacked by terrorists. The pilot said he and the co-pilot were having a heated debate over airline policy and became distracted, but few, it seemed, believed that. They HAD to be snoozing, especially in this day and age, when planes literally seem to fly themselves.

But they were wide awake, apparently, but findings from a preliminary investigation show that they were distracted and, yes, it was because of a discussion over airline scheduling procedures. ...

The pilots were first suspended with pay, then the Federal Aviation Administration suspended their licenses to fly. Will they fly again? It's hard to say. After all, with all the media attention this has gotten, Delta Airlines, which controls NWA, is going to have to come across as being especially concerned about airline safety and, even more, the security of its passengers.

The passengers and their families have every right to be upset. ...

But, it needs to be said, it's not like the plane was going to crash. At least that's what seems to be the case at this juncture. Thankfully, they had enough fuel to turn it around and head back to Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Whether or not the pilots ever fly again, if there's any good to come of this, it's the chilling effect it will have on other pilots who maybe haven't been concentrating 100 percent on flying their planes when auto-pilot is exactly what it would seem to be: A computer program taking over and essentially flying the plane. ...

They say flying is safer than driving a car. Even after this overshot-airport fiasco, that's probably still the case.

-- Crookston Daily Times