At the same time the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is easing restrictions on the in-flight use of electronics for passengers, it is tightening its rules on electronics usage by pilots. A new FAA rule (PDF) published on Tuesday prohibits the personal use of electronic devices by flight crew members while an aircraft is being operated. It is an addendum to the FAA's 1981 "Sterile Cockpit" rule that requires pilots to refrain from non-essential activities during critical phases of flight.

This final rule will prohibit flightcrew members in operations under part 121 from using a personal wireless communications device or laptop computer for personal use while at their duty station on the flight deck while the aircraft is being operated. This rule, which conforms FAA regulations with legislation, is intended to ensure that certain non-essential activities do not contribute to the challenge of task management on the flight deck or a loss of situational awareness due to attention to non-essential tasks.

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This FAA rule is a response to earlier instances of distracted flying by commercial airline pilots. In one 2009 incident, two pilots for Northwest, now Delta Air Lines, overshot their destination airport by 150 miles because they were using their personal laptops. During a 78-minute period, neither pilot noticed communications sent by company dispatchers and air traffic control. They only corrected course after a flight attendant called the cockpit to check on the flight's estimated time of arrival.

Though the personal use of electronic devices is banned, the FAA rule does permit the essential use of electronic flightbooks in the cockpit. Several US airlines, including JetBlue, American Airlines and United, have adopted iPads to replace heavy flight bags. These iPads are equipped with key flight charts, reference documents and checklists necessary for the operation of the aircraft.

While pilots must pay attention while flying, a recent FCC proposal would allow passengers to make phone and data calls while flying. In response to consumer opposition to in-flight calling, lawmakers are drafting a bill that would ban in-flight phone calls, says the Associated Press.

"Most passengers would like their flights to go by as quickly and quietly as possible," Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the committee's chairman and sponsor of the bill, said. "When it comes to cellphones on planes, tap don't talk."

The bill requires the Department of Transportation to issue regulations that would prohibit phone calls during flight. The bill has passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and will move to the floor for discussion.

Top Rated Comments

SavMBP15 Avatar
115 months ago
Right, because otherwise pilots would be checking twitter and playing Flappy Bird :rolleyes:

You would be SO surprised at to what goes on in the cockpit.
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ArtOfWarfare Avatar
115 months ago
Customers talking on cell phones should be banned by the airlines, not by the FAA or any other government organization, if the issue is entirely with it being rude rather than it having to do with safety.

Phone calls are banned on a bus I frequently ride, and all electronic devices must be silenced, as a consideration for other passengers, not because it would cause any technical problems.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
dannyyankou Avatar
115 months ago
Right, because otherwise pilots would be checking twitter and playing Flappy Bird :rolleyes:
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Nunyabinez Avatar
115 months ago


"You sunk my battleship!"
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
roadbloc Avatar
115 months ago
Good. They need to be focusing on flying.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mschmalenbach Avatar
115 months ago
Honestly I would rather have the pilots entertained goofing around on their phones than falling asleep because they have nothing to engage their minds during the hours-long cruise portion of the flight.

Modern aircraft, once in cruise on autopilot, require almost no interaction with the crew to fly. There's no reason to have the pilots staring out into space with absolutely nothing to do. If there's a problem, aircraft systems will let them know and they can deal with it.

... right up to the point where the monitoring / indication & warning system(s) fail...

... and if they're not focused on the flight/journey etc, then they have no situational awareness, which is exactly what they need the instant a problem is recognised...

Do we really have to wait until there is a loss of life and an aircraft before doing the sensible thing of banning the use of these items in the flight deck?

Oh, and by the way, pre-flight checking/prep of the aircraft is also, in my book (ex air force instructor & flight safety officer) is also a critical stage of flight, even though the aircraft is not in the air - or even necessarily moving...

I agree though that maintaining alertness during the cruise phase is an ongoing challenge.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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