On April 26th The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) called on air carrier operators to create and enforce policies that would limit distractions in the cockpit and keep pilots focused on transporting passengers safely. In addition, the FAA issued an "Information for Operators (InFO) guidance pdf" to remind air carriers and their crew members that any distractions that diverts their attention from required duties can constitute a safety risk for passengers and the aircraft.
This came to the attention of the FAA because of the October misstep of a Northwest crew who overflew their destination by some 150 miles as they became engrossed in their laptops and lost "situational awareness". I have often speculated upon the problem of loss of situational awareness as modern aircraft and the pilots who fly them become more and more dependent upon computers and technology. From the very start of aviation "situational awareness" was ingrained in pilots because they had little to help them navigate except ground reference, the stars and radio beacons that required skill. Today, pilots simply insert the co-ordinates of their departure point and destination into the navigation system and the computer does the rest. Liquid crystal display panels provide flight and navigation data to the pilots, and reliance upon the old standards has almost disappeared from our cockpits. The FAA's "Sterile Cockpit Rule" prohibits pilots from engaging in any type of distracting behavior during the critical phases of flight, and in particular take-off and landing. This rule came as the result of a take-off crash in Detroit where the crew forgot about the take-off checklist and failed to extend flaps for take-off. But the incident in October was during cruise flight when there is little to do until beginning descent into the airport environment. Today distractions appear everywhere due to technology, from texting while driving a car, using cell phones while multi-tasking to not paying attention while engrossed in a television program. One wonders where this will all lead. As I walk around I see more and more people with blue tooth devices stuck in their ears, young people with headsets on listening to their iPods and still others holding a cell phone to their ear as they are driving their cars. What about you? What distractions have you noticed, and what do you think should be done? Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7 ps: Don't forget to sign up for our newsletter "All Things Aviation" here! The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn't it be? —it is the same the angels breathe. — Mark Twain, ‘Roughing It,’ Chapter XXII, 1886.