By Glenn Pew, Contributing Editor, Video Editor
Proposed Senate bills in the wake of Northwest Airlines' October 21 NORDO flight past MSP have some pilots on edge, fearing they may bring about "grotesque consequences," according to an article published Thursday in USA Today. Because the now notorious Northwest pilots of Flight 188 claimed they had been distracted by laptops, electronic devices in the cockpit quickly became the target of proposed legislative bans. However, pilots are concerned that such a ban could hamper attempts to introduce safety and situational awareness oriented equipment, including portable electronic charts, electronic airport maps and e-checklists/flight manuals. While building those systems into existing and fixed cockpit hardware is possible, it's also costly and the bills' opponents fear that more cost effective solutions may be legislated out of the mix.
Equipping airlines with electronic airport diagrams can cost more than $100,000 per aircraft when the same can be accomplished with a laptop computer, handheld PDA, or perhaps an iPhone for roughly $100,000 less. At least one bill, The Distracted Flying Act, includes exemptions for certain electronic devices, but some fear that any restrictions could cause unnecessary hurdles for devices that would otherwise enhance efficiency and safety.