The FAA should have taken more decisive action on the Northwest Airlines flight that fell out of communication with ground control for 77 minutes last month, officials acknowledged today. While the plane was out of contact, air-traffic controllers changed shifts and failed to warn their replacements about the runaway plane. “We could have done better,” said FAA administrator Randy Babbitt.
The incident also represented a depressing failure of a post-9/11 terrorism safeguard formed by the FAA and the military, known as the Domestic Events Network. The network's purpose is to coordinate responses to potential threats from hijacked aircraft, ideally within 5 or 10 minutes from when a plane starts acting strangely. In the Northwest incident, notifying the DEN took 69 minutes. "That's unacceptable for us," Babbit said.