The Federal Aviation Administration has had to issue a reminder that will probably strike fear in the heart of some travelers because it seems like something you shouldn't have to tell pilots: They shouldn't be using their personal computers or other personal electronic devices during flights.
Six months after pilots overflew their destination by 150 miles because they allegedly were using their laptop computers, the Federal Aviation Administration is calling on airlines to create and enforce policies that limit distractions in the cockpit.
When most employers discover that employees are distracted from their job because they are using personal electronic devices, their main concerns are usually about productivity and profits. When an airline pilot is distracted because he or she is using such a device during a flight, the stakes are much higher.
The FAA's Sterile Cockpit Rule prohibits pilots from engaging in any type of distracting behavior during critical phases of flight, including take-off and landing. At other phases of flight, the agency says, crewmembers must avoid becoming distracted by any task not related to the safe operation of the flight, regardless of whether it involves use of a personal electronic device.
In the guidance, the FAA reminds airlines and pilots that any cockpit distraction that diverts attention from required duties can “constitute a safety risk.”
The FAA notes that while laptops and other devices have become valuable tools for pilots to use in their routine duties, they must only be used in the cockpit if they assist pilots in safely operating an aircraft.
In October 2009, pilots of Northwest 188 overflew their destination by 150 miles because they were using their laptop computers for personal activities and lost situational awareness, the FAA says. Investigators didn't specify what the personal activities were. Iit should be noted that at the time of the incident, the airline's policy prohibited the use of personal computers on the flight deck.
The FAA is asking airlines to address the issue of distraction through training programs and to create a safety culture to control cockpit distractions.
“Every aviation professional needs to take the issue of distractions in the cockpit seriously,” said FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt. “And when there are two or more professionals on the flight deck, they must hold each other to the highest safety standards. Allowing distractions is unacceptable.”