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A Ban Doomed To Fail?

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It seems odd that based on one incident -- those two pilots who flew right past their destination while absorbed in a discussion and looking at their laptops -- the FAA wants to ban all airline pilots from ever using personal electronic devices while in the cockpit -- ever. The FAA did cite a couple of other incidents, when a pilot received a text or their cellphone rang, but those occurred during times already covered by the sterile cockpit rule, so they don't really seem to justify this proposed rule change.

Exactly how the FAA intends to enforce this ban, isn't clear. Maybe they will use it as a reason to revisit the idea of having video monitors in the cockpit, a change the NTSB has been asking for, for years. Otherwise, it's a rule that seems almost certain to be broken. And because it seems so arbitrary and unenforceable, it's exactly the kind of rule that encourages people to ignore, disrespect, and break the rules, which doesn't seem like something the FAA should be wanting to do.

Airline pilots often have some downtime while cruising at altitude. It was a long time ago that I used to fly jumpseat in a cargo jet, but it was pretty common then for the pilot not flying at cruise to pass the time reading a book or a magazine. I imagine that's still true today. If they are reading on a Kindle or playing Angry Birds, I don't see how that makes any difference. Having something engaging to do to provide a little distraction seems like a good way to stay alert.

The FAA is accepting comments on its proposed rule until March 18. It will be interesting to see what kind of response they get.

Comments (31)

Airline pilots, like other people who work for someone else, are supposed to pay attention to their job while on the clock. This seems like a management problem rather than a government regulation problem to me.

I would expect each company who employs pilots to determine the correct answer to the electronic entertainment device question for their own operational circumstances. A "One size fits all" answer provided by government bureaucrats seems like a poor choice for this decision.

Posted by: Paul Mulwitz | January 17, 2013 5:46 AM    Report this comment

Typical government/bureaucrat reaction. A "common cause" solution, to a "special cause" problem. But this how they get the good press. And let's be honest... that's their true #1 concern.

Posted by: Michael Dean | January 17, 2013 6:31 AM    Report this comment

A typical knee jerk reaction by the federal government. Something happens and let's ban Ipads, guns, cell phones, ammunition etc. It is something to justify their existence and keep their jobs. Learn from an incident and use common sense to eliminate the problems in the future. Let management handle the problem as it arises.

Posted by: James Tarkington | January 17, 2013 6:40 AM    Report this comment

My concern is in the comment by Mary Grady that "having something to do to provide a little distraction seems like a good way to stay alert". In the aviation environments I have worked in for 4 decades (ATC/FSS), our path to a "safety culture" included avoiding distractions and staying focused. According to the lessons of Heinrich's Triangle from a safety perspective a distraction is an unsafe act. The theory posits that unsafe acts can cause hazardous conditions that could lead to incidents and accidents. For me, staying focused on all that is being done (even by someone else) and paying attention to the job at hand is hard work. Isn't that why they call it work?

Posted by: Joe Morgan | January 17, 2013 7:16 AM    Report this comment

It won't work... just like most laws and regulations it only will serve to punish people after the fact even if no harm was done. I don't use electronic stuff in flight at this time but I do read newspapers/magazines to stay alert during cruise flight if there is nothing pressing at the time. It can help you stay alert on long, boring flights.

Posted by: Joe Loschiavo | January 17, 2013 7:18 AM    Report this comment

I should add that one pilot needs to be heads up while the other one is heads down. Certainly can't have both guys reading away and nobody monitoring the situation. You just switch it up every 20 mins or so.

Posted by: Joe Loschiavo | January 17, 2013 7:21 AM    Report this comment

Mary Grady is correct in stating such a rule will be generally ignored. During a 29 year airline career, I found it not at all unusual for pilots to seek some sort of mental stimulus while flying these fully automated jets on the back side of the clock. Whether over Kansas or the North Atlantic at 3 AM body time, a quiet, dark cockpit is a very difficult place to remain alert. Mental activity that can ward off that "slipping into a coma" feeling is typically not only tolerated, but seen as contributing to the overall safe conduct of the flight. When Mary refers to pilots seeking a "distraction", she mean "distraction from nodding off" ... not "distraction from cockpit duties". To pontificate otherwise is to ignore the reality of human physiology.

Posted by: Kim Welch | January 17, 2013 7:30 AM    Report this comment

Mary Grady is correct in stating such a rule will be generally ignored. During a 29 year airline career, I found it not at all unusual for pilots to seek some sort of mental stimulus while flying these fully automated jets on the back side of the clock. Whether over Kansas or the North Atlantic at 3 AM body time, a quiet, dark cockpit is a very difficult place to remain alert. Mental activity that can ward off that "slipping into a coma" feeling is typically not only tolerated, but seen as contributing to the overall safe conduct of the flight. When Mary refers to pilots seeking a "distraction", she mean "distraction from nodding off" ... not "distraction from cockpit duties". To pontificate otherwise is to ignore the reality of human physiology.

Posted by: Kim Welch | January 17, 2013 7:31 AM    Report this comment

C'mon guys- don't you know the Nanny Gummint knows best?

Posted by: David Estus | January 17, 2013 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Even if this rule successfully protects the flying public from rampant PED abuse, pilots will just find other dumb things to do. Why not just make a rule that "Acts of incredible stupidity are not allowed. Offenders will be flogged and publicly humiliated."

Posted by: Richard Montague | January 17, 2013 7:57 AM    Report this comment

This latest FAA proposal is both ludricrous and typical goverment overkill! It may make sense on short flights of 1 hour or less, but how about those 8-14 hours international flights? Do the feds actually expect those pilots to do nothing but monitor engine/flight instruments all that time. How about reading a book, newspaper, magazine enroute? Or talking with your other crewmembers? That could be considered a distraction too! Let us stop this senseless over-regulation. Please tell the FAA common sense should rule! 99.9% of us are responsible, professional pilots; we shouldn't allow the FAA or NTSB judge/regulate us based on the isolated incidents of Delta and Colgan3407.

Posted by: Edgar Tello | January 17, 2013 8:05 AM    Report this comment

We need a new rule:

91.3(d). The pilot in command of an aircraft shall not do anything st00pid.

Posted by: Jay Maynard | January 17, 2013 8:06 AM    Report this comment

Hey! While they're at it, maybe they could ban all farting in the cockpit too. And ban being tired too. It is not professional. Please do not assume I am joking. Assuming should be banned. And joking is not professional. Please, think of the children.

Posted by: Some Dude | January 17, 2013 8:22 AM    Report this comment

TO EVERY POSTER: while it certainly fosters discussion here, EVERY ONE OF YOU should submit comments on the NPRM. Think it won't make a difference? Those who show up make the rules! FAA regulations have been tilted one way or the other by the majority of those who comment so get in there and provide a dose of real-world experience please.

Posted by: Tim Slater | January 17, 2013 8:31 AM    Report this comment

What next?!

I think they should just formulate a regulation which states that Pilots are required to "use common sense at all times". That way they wouldn't have to draft these knee jerk rules to make them look like they are doing their job of making the skies safe by passing more rules. This one is based on ONE incident by a couple of idiots.

It seems curious they limited it to just part 121 operations. Oh well, now all the 91 guys and gals can just keep playing Angry Birds and not have to worry.

Here is the link to comment on this rule.

http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgNPRM.nsf/0/EED24E7F9FA3193786257AF4004CD6FC?OpenDocument&Highlight=sterile%20cockpit

Posted by: David Huston | January 17, 2013 9:04 AM    Report this comment

Sorry Mary, you were on point until the "jumpseat" story. Just stick to reality i.e. pilots have back-up and supplemental aviation related information and apps on their personal electronic devices. I have approach and enroute charts; the aircraft AFM; both normal and emergency expanded checklists; FAR/AIM; weight & balance; company manuals; international clock; normal and emergency SAT phone numbers; worldwide FBO directory, etc. My tablet virtually contains an aviation reference library. Forcing all pilots to turn off these electronic aids because of a small number of crew members who acted unprofessionally is just rule-making for the sake of rule-making. The FAA should punish the guys that overflew their destination. They should not take away a useful tool from the rest of us.

Posted by: Tod Towne | January 17, 2013 9:54 AM    Report this comment

Here is the link.. you will have to copy and paste it. sorry I missed it above

http://rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgNPRM.nsf/0/EED24E7F9FA3193786257AF4004CD6FC?OpenDocument&Highlight=sterile%20cockpit

Posted by: David Huston | January 17, 2013 10:29 AM    Report this comment

David - strip off the 'www.' from the link and it should go through.

Posted by: Rush Strong | January 17, 2013 10:39 AM    Report this comment

As was clear in the news story (linked to via the word "ban" above), the FAA's proposal only applies to personal use, not use of iPads etc. for charts, weather, etc. The rule also applies only to airline pilots (Part 121).

Posted by: Mary Grady | January 17, 2013 10:59 AM    Report this comment

ok I tried again here it is without the www or http. //hrgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgNPRM.nsf/0/EED24E7F9FA3193786257AF4004CD6FC?OpenDocument&Highlight=sterile%20cockpit

Posted by: David Huston | January 17, 2013 11:34 AM    Report this comment

Looks like you have a spare 'h' past the "//" - try:

rgl.faa.gov/Regulatory_and_Guidance_Library/rgNPRM.nsf/0/EED24E7F9FA3193786257AF4004CD6FC?OpenDocument

for the rule, and:

www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=FAA-2012-0929-0001

for the comments page.

Posted by: Rush Strong | January 17, 2013 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Cameras in the cockpits? Why not put Nannies in the jump-seats instead. Just give them tea and biscuits, and they'll change the aviation world in one episode [or flight] at a time...guaranteed.

Posted by: Thomas Ryan | January 17, 2013 2:16 PM    Report this comment

Your URL is showing a "." instead of a ":" behind the http, and in http://

Posted by: Mac Hayes | January 17, 2013 4:01 PM    Report this comment

A rule like that would be as useful as prohibiting the flight crews from talking to each other about anything other than flight-related issues. The one instance of total distraction from what the plane was doing is inexcusable; punishment by publishing the names of the crew in a permanent NOTAM ought to be enough regulation.

Posted by: Mac Hayes | January 17, 2013 4:12 PM    Report this comment

This entire thing is bogus and so is the "rule" As I remember this incident this is just the phoney excuse these two idiots came up with after falling asleep at the same time and over flying their dest. by 20 minutes then when they did wake up and respond they flew around till the recorders reset before they contacted atc for a return to the airport..So why make a rule for something that never even happened....or is it just so that they cant use this lame excuse again??

Posted by: Russell Roe | January 17, 2013 5:40 PM    Report this comment

Russell, you are most likely correct. Amazing what you see when flying night freight for a while!

Posted by: Josh Johnson | January 17, 2013 6:41 PM    Report this comment

The FAA did not require the cargo operators to adhere to the same new rest rules as the pax carriers. This is known as the "cargo cutout". Never mind that we fly on the back side of the clock, and probably need more rest than the pax guys, not less. Since the lives of cargo guys aren't as important as the lives of pax pilots, perhaps we can get a "cargo cutout" of this idiotic electronic device rule? This is about as dumb as the rule that requires us to plot our track across the ocean, on a chart with a scale so large as to be entirely inaccurate! It we are on the magenta line, and on the line on the electronic chart, we're not lost!

Posted by: Unknown | January 18, 2013 9:03 AM    Report this comment

So if you ARE allowed to have charts, directories, and other reference information on your iPad (or other device) but not allowed to use it for "entertainment" Who is going to know what you are looking at, even if there is a camera in the cockpit, a chart or lessons in aerodynamics from Angry Birds? This is a unenforcable and thus stupid rule and needs to be squashed. A better one would be any pilot found delinquent in his duties NO MATTER THE REASON should have his license suspended, Oh Wait they already do that.

Posted by: Rodney Hall | January 18, 2013 10:07 AM    Report this comment

As the CRM/human factors program manager for a large 142 training organization, chief pilots in part 91 and 135 operations often query me on this topic. I believe we have some strong evidence to show that strategic use of "distractions" can actual enhance vigilance when used at appropriate times. One needs to read the scientific journals (and understand the methodology) to make a true assessment on this topic - not just parrot the pop psychology about distractions. In short, we know it's happening (just like pilots taking naps). The question is, can we use it advantageously?

Posted by: Shannon Forrest | January 25, 2013 9:23 AM    Report this comment

A ban is the simplest and easiest solution for a bureaucracy to absolve itself of both responsibility and work. The FAA is far from alone in adopting this as a first response to just about anything except a pay or benefit increase. Even if a ban is not adopted, they still can say afterward "We told you to ban it" and claim they have no responsibility.

Never underestimate the desire of a bureaucracy to want to minimize its work and responsibility in any situation. It's in the nature of the beast.

Posted by: FILL CEE | January 28, 2013 12:34 AM    Report this comment

Student rights are those rights, including but not limited to civil, constitutional, contractual and consumer rights, which regulate student rights and freedoms and allow students to make use of their educational investment. Thanks. Regards, buy a term paper online

Posted by: zidif wify | July 15, 2013 3:03 AM    Report this comment

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