First Air Fires Wayward Pilots

First Air has fired two pilots who went off course on a routine flight March 31.

First Air has fired two pilots who went off course on a routine flight March 31.

First Air said Thursday it dismissed pilots who got lost on a routine flight from Rankin Inlet to Iqualuit last month.

The unidentified pilots flying a Boeing 737-200 wandered 225 km off course before being notified of the error and turning south for an uneventful landing at Iqualuit.

The airline said in a statement that the pilots were initially suspended with pay but subsequent investigation determined they violated airline navigation procedures.

“During the interviews, we learned the pilots did not follow our standard operating procedures designed to eliminate navigational errors,” First Air said in an April 10 release. “As a result, those pilots are no longer employees of First Air.”

The company did not describe the circumstances or nature of the procedural gap but it did say its pilots and dispatchers have been briefed on the mishap and the airline has “reinforced the procedures with all crew and dispatch staff.”

The aircraft left Rankin Inlet March 31 with 19 passengers and four crew and was using GPS navigation on autopilot.

According to an Transportation Safety Board incident report, the crew was unaware it was off course.

“A Boeing 737-200, C-GNDE, operated by First Air as flight FAB955, was cruising en route when the crew was advised by another flight that air traffic control was trying to contact them,” the incident report said. “The crew contacted ATC and determined they were north of course about 225 nm northwest of Iqaluit. The flight turned toward Iqaluit and landed without further incident.”

The airline “has gone to great lengths to update and strengthen our standard operating procedures” and it was clear from interviews with the flight crew that those procedures weren’t followed.

The incident comes two weeks after a Transportation Safety Board investigation into a 2011 crash by a First Air 737 indicated cockpit confusion led to the aircraft missing Resolute Airport. Twelve people, including both pilots died in that crash.

The Airline Pilots Association is protesting the firing of the crew in the most recent incident, saying a more complete investigation is warranted.

“This rush to judgment has unfairly called into question the expertise and professionalism of a crew with more than 40 years of combined flight experience,” union rep Peter Black said. “We will use all of the union’s resources to investigate this incident and support the crew.”