DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - In addition to the pilot and co-pilot, Southwest Airlines says a dispatcher was the third person inside the cockpit when they landed at the wrong airport in Branson, Missouri. Southwest and industry experts say it's a routine scenario because they are part of flight operations. They monitor all flights from Dallas -- and assist the crew if necessary. Dispatchers are certified to be in the cockpit. Still, retired airline pilot Denny Kelly says the NTSB and FAA will take a close look at this. "The problem becomes the amount of conversation between the third party in the cockpit and the two pilots and how much of a distraction it is."
They landed at M. Graham Clark Downtown airport, instead of the Branson Airport - six miles away. The runway at the downtown airport is only 3700 feet long -- much shorter than required for a plane the size of a 737. The airport manager told me the pilot stopped the jet just 300 feet from the end of the runway, before it drops off by 60 feet. Experts say investigators will look to see if the pilots committed any violations, including what's called the Sterile Cockpit rule, which is in effect when the plane is below ten thousand feet. Kelly says, "There is no superfluous conversation in the cockpit. The only thing that can be discussed is something to do with the flight."
The NTSB is still reviewing the cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Kelly says, "They'll listen to the cockpit voice recorder to see what was going on in the cockpit, they'll check the logbook to see if there was anything in the log book to see if there was anything in the cockpit that wasn't working when it should have been that would have affected this. Were any of the navigational radios inoperative?" Kelly says if the navigational aids and radios were working properly, he couldn't think of any reason for the pilots to land at the wrong airport.
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