The Federal Aviation Administration sharply criticized Delta Air Lines pilots yesterday for frequent lapses of crew discipline, breakdown in communications and poor crew coordination.
Ten FAA inspectors who rode in the cockpits of 116 Delta flights during a five-week inspection said they observed a variety of pilot lapses, including:Arriving at the cockpit without enough time to perform preflight duties in an orderly manner. Confirming instructions from air traffic controllers when the copilot was not listening. Pushing the plane away from the gate with passengers standing in the aisle. Making company-related calls or public-relations announcements to passengers while below 10,000 feet. Failing to confirm with the copilot data plugged into the auto pilot system.
Even more frequently, the inspectors said they found that crew members minimized the use or importance of cockpit checklists. On nearly every flight, crews were distracted by noise from radio speakers and in some cases, they missed air traffic calls. The FAA recommended crew members use headsets.
"Maybe individually, these things are not serious, but taken as a whole, they show a pattern that is of concern to us," said Fred Farrar, an FAA spokesman.
The 35-page report, rife with descriptions of inadequacies in training and operations, was released by the FAA yesterday after Delta issued a news release about the inspection titled: "Delta Procedures Met and Exceeded FAA Requirements." The FAA had planned to release the report next week, but hurriedly distributed the document following Delta's statement.
In its statement, Delta quoted the first sentence of the FAA's report, saying that the agency had found Delta to be in "general compliance with federal air regulations." But the airline made no reference to the report's second sentence, which said, "However, the team observed instances of a breakdown of communications, a lack of crew coordination and lapses of discipline in Delta's cockpits."
A Delta official said the airline plans to launch a new advertising campaign Monday, with a television spot airing on Monday Night Football. Aviation industry experts said yesterday Delta wanted to put the inspection report behind them before the new ads came out.
Delta's statement also said "some elements" of the FAA's review paralleled earlier findings of Delta's internal investigation.
The FAA launched the review of Delta's pilot program following a string of incidents last July in which Delta pilots landed in the wrong city, on the wrong runway, inadvertently shut down both engines of a two-engine jetliner while taking off over the Pacific and nearly collided with a jumbo jet over the North Atlantic after straying 60 miles off course.
No fines were assessed against Delta. The FAA noted that Delta, the country's fourth-largest airline, has an excellent reputation in the industry. The FAA also said inspectors found no evidence that Delta crews are "either unprofessional or purposefully negligent."
"In a sense, we're telling them to pull up their aerial socks," said FAA spokesman Bob Buckhorn.
Each of the July incidents is being investigated separately for possible enforcement action, the FAA said. The agency has revoked the captain's certificate of the 767 captain who inadvertently shut down his jetliner's engines while taking off from Los Angeles.
FAA inspectors concluded in the report that the lapses occurred because of the airline's practice of allowing pilots wide discretion in cockpit procedures. The inspection team also recommended that Delta's training program be upgraded because of the rapid career advancement of pilots.