Recent incidents have revealed that airline pilots are using personal electronic devices, including laptop computers and cell phones, in the cockpit. In one well-publicized instance, two Northwest pilots were using their laptops in flight and lost situational awareness; they flew 150 miles past their destination.
It doesn't take a safety expert to realize there is no room for distraction when your job is to get people safely to their destinations.
Our Federal Aviation Administration already has what's known as the "Sterile Cockpit Rule," prohibiting pilots from engaging in any type of distracting behavior during critical phases of flight. Today, the FAA is distributing an "Information for Operators" (InFO) guidance that asks the airlines to address distraction through crew training programs. It also asks that airlines create a safety culture to control cockpit distractions.
As USA Today's Alan Levin reports, we want airlines to develop a culture that creates "a top-to-bottom expectation that safety will be taken seriously—and that emphasizes eliminating distractions."
It's really very simple: engaging in tasks not directly related to required flight duties, including using personal electronic devices, constitutes a safety risk. The FAA can't have that.
And the flying public can't have it. They expect their pilots to focus on flying safely at all times. And rightly so.
In the past nine months, I have been on a tear, working to combat distracted driving in cars, in commercial trucks, in railroad locomotives, and in public transit. But the safety consequences of operator distraction in those vehicles pale in comparison to those of a commercial airliner.
Our aviation system has a terrific safety record, but we can only maintain that record by minimizing risk wherever possible, including in the cockpit.
Today's "InFO" guidance makes clear that, as FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt says, “Every aviation professional needs to take distractions in the cockpit seriously.”