FAA: Limit texting, cell phones in commercial cockpits

FAA wants to limit pilot distractions; enforce Sterile Cockpit Rule

Dangerous distractions such as texting or cell phone use aren't just a driving menace - pilots of commercial aircraft succumb to such high-tech diversions - with possibly worse results. 

That's why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) today put airlines on call: create and enforce policies that will limit distractions in the cockpit and keep pilots focused on transporting passengers safely. 

The FAA's Sterile Cockpit Rule prohibits pilots from engaging in any type of distracting behavior during critical phases of flight, including take-off and landing and the warning today reminds crewmembers and air carriers that any cockpit distraction that diverts attention from required duties can "constitute a safety risk."  This includes the use of personal electronic devices for activities unrelated to flight, the FAA stated.

As ever-more high-tech device proliferate, laptops and other devices are becoming valuable tools for pilots to use in their routine duties, but they must only be used in the cockpit if they assist pilots in safely operating an aircraft, the FAA stated. 

Last October the pilots of Northwest 188 over-flew their destination by 150 miles because they claimed they were using their laptop computers for personal activities and lost situational awareness. In another instance, a pilot was texting after the aircraft pushed back from the gate and before the take-off sequence, the FAA stated. In still another instance, an  FAA inspector in the jump seat overheard a crewmember's mobile phone ring during the takeoff roll.

Meanwhile on the ground, the US Department of Transportation said this month it wants to ban texting by commercial bus and truck drivers.  The department announced a federal rule that aims to specifically prohibit texting by interstate commercial truck and bus drivers. The proposed rule would make permanent an interim ban announced in January 2010 that applied existing safety rules to the texting issue. 

Commercial drivers, including those required to have "commercial driver's licenses," could face fines or operating disqualification if convicted of texting while driving, the department stated.  This rule would not affect talking on cell phones, or using devices like GPS or in-cab fleet management systems, the department is looking onto regulations about those activities as well. 

President Obama has already signed an Executive Order directing federal employees not to engage in text messaging while driving government-owned vehicles or with government-owned equipment.

Research shows that drivers who send and receive text messages take their eyes off the road for an average of 4.6 seconds out of every 6 seconds while texting.  At 55 miles per hour, this means that the driver is traveling the length of a football field, including the end zones, without looking at the road, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. 

Drivers who text while driving are more than 20 times more likely to get in an accident than what it calls non-distracted drivers.  Because of the safety risks associated with the use of electronic devices while driving, FMCSA is also working on additional regulatory measures that will be announced in the coming months. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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