Interview: Captain Timothy Cheney <





Interview: Captain Timothy Cheney

Date: October 25, 2009

Time: 1334L – 1510L

Location: Northwest Airlines Training Center

Present were: David Tew, Malcolm Brenner, David Lawrence- National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB); T.R. Proven –FAA, Pete Sahler – Northwest Airlines; Dan Coogan – ALPA; Christopher M. Brown - ALPA Representative.  

During the interview, Captain Cheney stated the following:  

His full name was Timothy Brian Cheney and he was 53 years old. His date of hire at Northwest Airlines was 11/18/1985. He began flying as a private pilot in Anchorage, AK, flying for Seair [ no longer in business] flying Twin Otters and turbo Beavers and his own private float plane. He flew air cargo for Ryan International on contract with Emery International Airlines. He flew F/E and F/O on the Boeing 727, then upgraded to captain, but never finished qualification. He was hired by Republic Airlines on 11/18/1985 and flew as F/O on the DC 9, and F/E on the Boeing 727. Republic merged with Northwest Airlines later.  

His total flight time was estimated at over 20,000 hours. On the A320, he flew 3-4 years as an F/O, and 7 years as captain. His estimated total A320 time was about 10,000 hours with about 7,000 hours as pilot-in-command (PIC). On the DC 9, he was a instructor for 1 year at Republic. He stated he had no previous accidents, incidents or violations. He had no failures of check rides or proficiency checks. He stated that the only limitation he had on his medical was to have reading glasses, which he had on the incident flight. . . Captain Cheney stated that his health was excellent and that there had been no major changes in his health in the past year.  

His hearing was OK. He used reading glasses. He did not use prescription medicine. He drank very little alcohol and did not use tobacco. He drank about 3-4 cups of coffee per day,. In the 72-hours before the event, the only medication he took was his daily aspirin because he had irregular heartbeats. He had a stress test performed because of the irregular heartbeats, but nothing was found and the irregular heartbeat was not on his medical record. There were no major changes in his financial situation in the past year and his finances were OK. The NWA Chapter 11 action made a major financial impact and had been a distraction that created a “bitter and angry” environment but he tried to leave it out of the cockpit. Everyone was very bitter and angry about it.  

There had been no major changes in his personal life in the past year. He had been married for 27 years to the same spouse and had two grown children, a 23-year old daughter and 19-year old son. Neither of his children lived with him. His wife was a nurse and worked part-time. They lived near Seattle, WA. He stated that his vision and hearing was good, took no prescription drugs. He did take dexitrol in the past for urination, but not in the last year. He does drink alcohol, does not use tobacco, and drinks 3 cups of coffee per day. 72 hours prior to the incident flight he took one aspirin. When not working, his typical sleep schedule was to go to bed at about 2330 and awaken about 0730. He normally got up once during the night around 0300 for a toilet break. He tried to obtain six hours sleep per day. He did not nap, and wished he could. He felt rested at the time of the event. On overnights, he stated he remained on pacific coast time (“on my watch”).  


Regarding sleep problems, he went to Alaska Sleep labs about 15 years ago because his wife complained of his snoring, and was told he does not have sleep apnea and he was not diagnosed with sleep apnea. He voluntarily began sleeping with a CPAP device to control snoring for his wife’s sake. He has not otherwise sought medical assistance for sleep issues, but not on trips, and he did not bring it on the incident trip. He “guesses” it helped him sleep. He stated he had no personal problems “other than this event.” “It’s been a huge change”.  

For commuting purposes, he bid trips that left late in the afternoon and ended early in the day so he could jumpseat to MSP without having to overnight there. The Northwest Airlines policy was that if you booked a jumpseat up to 10 ½ days in advance or listed as a passenger with a back up flight available, and you were bumped, the company would provide you with a must ride priority on the next flight. However, the new Delta Airlines policy that was now being implemented was more complex, required booking trips from 1 ½ to 3 ½ days in advance, was not as user friendly, and might result in a pay cut if no jumpseat was available and the pilot had to ride in a backup seat.  

He stated this was his first trip with this particular F/O, and thought he was “ok”. He said “I’ve flown with better before.” When asked about suggestions for the F/O to be better, he stated that everyone was struggling with the new Delta Airlines procedures, but he thought the F/O could have been better on the preflight items. Regarding the preflight, he stated that the “Delta procedures are so culturally different than ours” and “we’re still trying to figure out who does what”. The non flying pilot versus the flying pilot have different procedures, and are different than “how we used to do” them. When he was flying, it was the F/O’s duty to do the overhead cockpit items, but they were not done well by this F/O. He stated that he was the flying pilot for both legs [day one and the incident flight]. He stated that there were no minimum equipment items (MELs) on the airplane.  

He stated there were no fights, they did not fall asleep, they did not argue. But they did do a good job coming in. He stated they did not watch the press info until they got back to their home. He stated that “there’s no excuse”, and “I let my guard down”, and “I wish I could explain why”. When asked if he ever nodded off, he stated “no” and felt well rested. He stated they talked about vacation bidding, procedures, and insurance but could not remember if they spoke about insurance on this particular flight. He stated that with the merger “there’s a lot going on”, and “I just don’t understand this”. He stated that “when things get quiet” in the cockpit, you notice it, and said they heard ” chatter” on the radio.  

His October bid schedule was good. He had about six days off-duty before this trip. His sleep was average. He did outside projects, house projects and errands around the house. On Monday night, October 19, he went to bed at about 2230 On Tuesday October 20, he awoke at about 0400 after going the night before. His sleep must have been okay because he was awakened by the alarm. He caught a 0630 PDT flight from SEA and arrived at MSP about 1130 CDT. At MSP, he spoke for about one hour with a preferential bidding system (PBS) instructor about the bidding process. . The instructor was helpful. Captain Cheney then sat in a recliner chair in the crew room. Some Delta Airlines crew schedulers were there and he spoke with them for about 35-40 minutes about Northwest and Delta company differences on jumpseat policy.  

He then checked in for his flight and went to the airplane. The preflight duties were normal. The airplane arrived in SAN about 1930 which was about 30 minutes behind schedule). His wife had come from SEA to join him for the SAN layover and he met her in the hotel room. The hotel drove them to a nearby restaurant where he “ate too much”: a hamburger, two tacos, and a beer. They walked back to the hotel, they watched the news, and he went to sleep about 2230-2300 MDT.  

On Wednesday October 21, he awoke about 0730 MDT. The quality of sleep was pretty good. He and his wife walked about 20 minutes to a restaurant for breakfast, then returned to the hotel and sat on the deck. He made a 1300 pickup to depart the hotel. He sometimes had difficulty falling or staying asleep at hotels, which could be noisy. He usually turned on the room fan to mask the noise. However, the SAN hotel was good,  

He characterized workload on the event flight as normal. He had never received training on fatigue but read some material on his own. He had never called in fatigued. He did not know any pilot who did call in fatigued although he heard it happened. Pilot morale was better now than it was three years ago. It was average. There were many changes happening. Regarding the drug testing, he clarified that Delta airlines did drug test the crew. On the cockpit overhead flow during preflight checks, the F/O is suppose to put the seat belt sign “on” and the parking brake was left “off”, so under the new Pilot Flying versus Pilot Not-flying duties, it was all new to them. There had been four phases of operational manual changes since the merger. He stated that in the “old system”, the captain always did the overhead preflight, and the flows were now different and this was a “cultural” change. In MSP, the F/O did not perform the overhead flow as now required, and in SAN, he forgot portions of the flow as well. Captain Cheney “We’re all learning these procedures”, but he thought the F/O “could’ve done it better”.  

There were no problems with the aircraft, but did note that it was slow to climb to from FL350-FL370, and in “open climb” went up only 200 fpm at first, but then continued and everything normal at cruise flight. He used his headset up to top of climb, and did not use them in cruise flight until the top of descent. He was not exactly sure where the volume on the speaker was set, but he did hear radio transmissions, and the F/O was working the radios.  

He stated the non-flying pilot was responsible for the radios under the old NWA procedures, and that had not changed with the new Delta procedures. On the SAN-MSP leg, he stated that the radio panels were set up with the ATC frequency selected on the #1 radio, and out of 10,000 feet he selected frequency 121.50 on radio number 2, and “believes” he had it on the whole time. He took his headset off a little before reaching cruise altitude. He has had the opportunity to simultaneously use the speaker and headset.  

He stated that at cruise altitude FL370 [he was not sure how long after reaching cruise altitude], a F/A called and asked if they wanted any extra meals. They said yes and also asked for a restroom break. When he left the cockpit, he told the F/O “you have the aircraft”. He then came back into the cockpit and they both ate their meals, put the meal trays on the floor, and then a discussion started about a brand new bidding system. The captain said he thought he started the discussion. He asked the F/O “how’d you do on your bids”. He stated that he was not happy with his bid results because he did not receive the bid he expected. He asked the F/O “you commute, how’d you do on yours”. The captain said he then pulled his laptop out, and put it on his lap. He had a copy of the bids on his laptop, and noted that most all the changes they had seen were in electronic format, and required a laptop. He pointed out his bids to the F/O, and after 4-5 minutes of talking, the F/O pulled out his laptop.

The captain stated he then folded his laptop and placed it on top of his flight bag located next to his knee, and spoke more about the bids as the F/O showed him his bids. The captain then pulled out his table and started taking notes, and never heard a radio call though he heard “chatter but never a radio call”, and that “no one called us” that he was aware of. He stated that both laptops were out, but with the laptop out, he could see the display. He didn’t recall what he last saw on the ND. He stated that it was supposed to be a conversation on how to bid, and was never intended to go that long. “This was only suppose to take 10 minutes”, and he was “blown away” with how long the conversation lasted. He said he felt embarrassed about this. He said “I was wrong” and “let another force come from the outside and distract me”. He stated that they continued to talk about bidding for what he thought was 15 minutes, then a F/A called up to the cockpit and asked what time they were going to land.  

He then looked at his MCDU and saw no flight plan, flipped his NAV display from Arc to Rose (compass), saw Duluth to the left, and Eau Claire to the 2 o’clock position with no estimated time of arrival (ETA) shown, and white lines along the FMS display. He said after 24 years of flying “I’ve never, ever, been in this situation”, put his “passengers at risk”, and “you don’t know how sorry I am”. When asked about his displays, he said he kept “airports” up on his EFIS display to show where the airports are. He stated that he then realized what had happened and told the F/O “we just flew over the Minneapolis airport.” He told the F/O to contact ATC because “we need to get this thing on the ground”. He could not recall the time frame because he was “in shock”, but his first thought was to fly the airplane and get on the ground, and “we’ll explain afterwards.”  

He stated that the F/O did a pretty good job and got them back onto the correct ATC frequency. When the F/A had asked “when are we going to get there”, he didn’t answer. He later got on the passenger address (PA) system and said “they are taking arrivals from the east, we should be on the ground 25-28 minutes” and did not further explain the situation. He said to the F/O, “they’ll find out on the ground”. The F/O was working the radios and the captain was flying. He said he did not initially notice the ACARS messages on the ECAM. After he spoke on the PA, and while being vectored to the Eau Claire 8 arrival, he sent a message to dispatch saying “we’re inbound”. At that point he saw the messages, but did not read them as they were heading back to MSP. After contacting ATC, they started getting vectors. The F/O had put the arrival in, but then ATC changed the arrival and he “stuck” that one in. He said he could not recall all the vectors they were given, but recalled ATC mentioned possible holding. He said he figured the vectors were to verify they were actually flying the aircraft. He asked the F/O to let ATC know “everything’s ok”, and he said something about “flight crew distraction” to ATC.  

With reference to position reports, he did use a specific prompt in the MCDU. When texting to dispatch, he used a free text function. When dispatch sent a message, a message would appear on the ECAM, but he did not initially notice a message on the event flight. He stated that on the B-757 airplane, there was a chime when you received a dispatch message, and stated “I sure wish we had one of those today or I wouldn’t be sitting here” today. Captain Cheney said “It’s no excuse for what we did, but it sure would’ve helped”. He stated he did fly the B-757 aircraft with SECAL, but never really used SELCAL on the Airbus, and was not sure if they even had it on the aircraft.  

At the top of climb, he stated that he believes it was “Bonnie” who came up during first break. On the flight plan page, he stated that an arrival was programmed into the FMS, and that he “put it in”, but did not enter a runway. He stated that he didn’t recall if they received any “direct-to” routings.  

He stated that after he switched his pilot display he saw Duluth and Eau Claire. He did not see MSP and knew he was past it.  

He stated that he had used the help of the bid helpers, and had utilized the “practice bid” but did not do very well on it, had downloaded the bid practice, and mentioned he had a MAC and F/O had a Dell and the download doesn’t work on a MAC.  

When asked about the disposition of the flight plan, he didn’t recall if Rick had done a top of climb fuel computation. The Captain did do a mental fuel computation and compared it to the MCDU, but couldn’t remember if Rick had written anything. The Captain also doesn’t know what happened to the paperwork. The Captain said a chief pilot entered the cockpit in MSP and Captain believes he may have taken the paperwork.  

Regarding company reports, he stated that after a conversation with a dispatcher on his jumpseat, he asked about position reports, and the dispatcher said “don’t send us something unless it’s absolutely necessary” because “we’re getting inundated with those things” and because they already track the airplanes, know the fuel and know where you are at. He did not send one, and didn’t know if the F/O had sent one.

He stated he and the F/O were drug tested on arrival in MSP.

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