FAA Proposes Ban on Pilots’ Personal Electronic Devices

Airplane accident attorneys are pleased to announce that the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) is proposing a new rule further regulating pilot’s use of personal communication devices while on board aircrafts. Current standards prohibit their use of electronic devices during take-off and landing, however, this new legislation will extend the electronic ban for the entirety of the flight.

The proposal was published on Tuesday, January 15th in the U.S. Federal Register. The FAA’s previous electronic device legislation made it unlawful for any flight crewmember to use personal wireless communications devices on the flight deck during critical phases of flight (taxi, take-off, landing, and all other operations below 10,000 feet). The new rule will amend the language of this Act to extend the prohibition of personal communications devices, including laptops, to all phases of flight, meaning the prohibition will commence at taxi and end when the aircraft is parked at the gate.

The legislation does not apply to the use of such devices for purposes directly related to aircraft operation, emergencies, safety, or employment-related communications. This new rule proposal was spurred by several recent incidents involving lack of discipline in aircraft operations. One case was specifically mentioned in the Federal Register, in which two pilots overflew their destination by 150 miles. The pilots were using personal laptops during cruise flight and lost situational awareness. Losing situational awareness is extraordinarily dangerous – to ensure safety, pilots must be aware at all times of such factors as weather, air traffic control, location, and aircraft status, among others.

Amending the electronic device legislation is intended to ensure that personal activities will no longer compromise task management. Pilots hold the lives of passengers in their hands, and their complete and total attention must be focused on aircraft status at all times. Any loss of awareness can result in devastating consequences, such as missing critical information or environmental hazards, deviating from course or altitude, misinterpreting instructions, or experiencing a task overload.

This attention-tunneling phenomenon from electronic devices is becoming increasingly overwhelming in our culture. Take a look at any urban center, college campus, mall, or any other highly populated area and you will see a high percentage of people walking around absorbed by their smart phones, headphones in ear, completely unaware of their surroundings. This may be acceptable for the average citizen riding public transportation, but aircraft pilots have an immense responsibility that needs to be taken seriously. The FAA realizes this issue, and is taking steps in the right direction to ensure public safety.

As stated, pilots will still be able to use any devices that are directly related to their operating duties. American Airlines, for example, recently replaced its enormous paper flight manuals for iPads. The switch reportedly saved AA over $1.2 million in gas costs.

The FAA also cited the Colgan Air crash of 2009, which killed all 49 people on board in an accident outside Buffalo, New York. Members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said that the crash was caused by fatigue and inattention. The captain of the Colgan aircraft was reported to be logged into his personal laptop at 3 a.m. that morning. Both the captain and the first officer were extremely fatigued during the flight. Testimonies indicated that fatigued pilots, much like the experience of attention tunneling, were unable to judge the extent of their impairment and were likely to have trouble concentrating and following more than one source of information.

The NTSB concluded that, because of the increasing number of incidents like this, collaborative action between the FAA and other aviation agencies must be taken. Somewhat surprisingly, the FAA is allowing anyone to send in comments regarding this new rule until March 18, 2013. The FAA is expected to make a final decision after this date.

Airplane accident attorneys hope that this legislation will pass without incident. The rule is intended to ensure that passenger safety and aircraft operation is the exclusive priority for aircraft crewmembers. Aircraft transportation is generally considered a safe mode of transportation, and accidents due to pilot distractedness are unacceptable. Lawsuits resulting from airplane crashes involve complicated aviation laws. If you or someone you love was killed or seriously injured in an airplane accident, consult an experienced attorney who can provide you with the answers and help you need.