Laptop Flap Flubbed: Pilot Union

ATLANTA ( TheStreet) -- The leader of the pilots union at Delta ( DAL) says federal safety officials have mishandled the case of two pilots who overflew Minneapolis.

In an interview, Lee Moak, chairman of the 12,000-member Delta chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, said the National Transportation Safety Board has committed "a breach of the trust and special confidence (by) pre-maturely releasing self-disclosed information" from the pilots.

The board "is right on the cusp of showing total disregard for the process of (ensuring) airline safety," Moak said. The NTSB declined to comment.

The airplane in question was an A320, carrying 144 passengers and operated by Northwest, which Delta acquired in 2008. In a press release Monday, the NTSB said the pilots said they lost track of time while "discussing the new monthly crew flight scheduling system that was now in place as a result of the merger."

The agency said both pilots used personal laptop computers while discussing the scheduling, and did not monitor the airplane or calls from air traffic control or notice messages from company dispatchers. The incident occurred Oct. 21.

"Self-disclosing safety programs are the cornerstone of the U.S. having the best aviation safety record and commercial aviation being the safest form of travel," Moak said. "How does this release from the NTSB promote transportation safety?"

Moak said the two pilots have been victimized by "the abandonment of due process" by the agency and by "a rush to judgment" by both the agency and the media, which had speculated on a wide variety of causes for the incident before the NTSB release.

Delta spokesman Ed Stewart said the airline is conducting its own investigation, working with the NTSB, the Federal Aviation Administration and ALPA. The pilots, previously identified as Capt. Timothy B. Cheney, 53, and First Officer Richard I. Cole, 54, have been suspended pending the results of the investigation.

In a prepared statement, Delta said: "Using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots' command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline's flight deck policies and violations of that policy will result in termination."

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C. .

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