Tuesday, 18 February 2014

FAA enacts regulation to enhance ‘sterile cockpit’ rule

   The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enacted on 12 Febr. 2014 an amendment to 14 CFR Part 121, to comply with Section 307 (§ 44732) of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. These provisions prohibit the use of electronic devices (cell phones, laptops, PDAs etc.) on the flight deck for personal purposes of the crew, while the aircraft is operated, i.e. from beginning of taxi (movement of the aircraft under its own power) until the aircraft is parked at the gate at the end of the flight segment (14 CFR 1.1).

   Despite the potential electromagnetic interference of the personal electronic devices with avionics, the FAA has clarified that the purpose of the rule is to ensure that task management on the flight deck and situational awareness of the crew are not compromised by non-essential tasks. The provision is part of the ‘sterile cockpit’ rule, first laid down in 1981 (1.46 FR 5500, 19 Jan. 1981), after a series of accidents that were due to distractions of the flight crew during the flight. You can find more on the ‘sterile cockpit’ rule here, there and elsewhere.

   The FAA explains that this rule was established following the recommendations of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), in the aftermath of crash of a Eurocopter AS 350 B2 helicopter on 26 Aug. 2011 in Mosby, Missouri, which killed all four persons on board. The main cause of the accident was fuel exhaustion, which had not been noticed by the pilot, because of his engagement in frequent personal texting both before and during the accident flight.

   There have been also two incidents. In one instance, the use of personal laptops by two pilots during cruise flight led to a 150-mile fly-by of their destination. In another instance, a pilot sent a text message on her personal cell phone during the taxi phase of the flight after the aircraft pushed back from the gate and before the take-off sequence.

   The rule will become effective on 14 April 2014.

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