Many news stories, studies and pending legislation have been devoted to serious car or trucking accidents caused by distracted drivers — operating a motor vehicle while engaged in other activities, such as texting or talking on a cell phone — but it seems such distraction is not limited to ground transportation. According to recent reports from the National Transportation Safety Board, pilot distraction caused a Northwest Airline to lose radio communication for about one hour, and caused the airplane to land in the wrong airport. The good news is no one was seriously inured or killed as a result of their negligence; the bad news is pilot distraction may be more common than one would think.
The NTSB reported that the two Northwest Airline pilots who recently “overshot” the Minneapolis airport by about 150 miles were distracted while using their own personal laptops while in the cockpit, contrary to airline regulations. The pilots were out of contact with air traffic controllers for more than an hour, causing National Guard jets to be scrambled and White House officials alerted to the situation. The two pilots’ licenses have been revoked while an investigation continues.
The only good news in this story is that no one was seriously injured or killed as a result of the pilot’s negligence. Aviation accidents can be catastrophic, causing life-long injuries or death. An experienced aviation accident attorney has a thorough understanding of not only industry practices, but specific state and federal rules that govern the safe operation of a plane. For a free consultation with one of Passen & Powell’s top personal injury lawyers, call as at (312) 527-4500.
Delta Air Lines, who operates Northwest Airlines, has a policy stating that “using laptops or engaging in activity unrelated to the pilots’ command of the aircraft during flight is strictly against the airline’s flight deck policies,” and that any violation of that policy is grounds for termination. The article also points out that there are no federal rules prohibiting the use of personal laptops and other devices in the cockpit “as long as the plane is flying above 10,000 feet.”
The reason for limiting the passengers’ use of what the Federal Aviation Administration calls “personal electronic devices” or PEDs, was initially due to interference with airline communication and navigation equipment, creating dangerous conditions for pilots, crew and passengers. This rule was AC 91-21.1A, which was canceled in October 2000 and replaced with AC 91-21.1B in August of 2006.
The new rule allows for the use of accepted PEDs once the plane has reached cruising altitude. What is considered “acceptable” PEDs is still determined by the airline, not the government. However, all PEDs are to be turned off and stowed during take off and landing. The FAA identified potential personal injuries to passengers “as well as is the possibility of missing significant safety announcements during important phases of flight.“
This story highlights how “driver distraction” is not exclusive to land transportation. Especially in mass public transportation such as bus, train, and airline transport, driver attention is paramount to avoid catastrophic accidents. Indeed, in sophisticated aviation transportation, there is no excuse for what happened on this Northwest flight. Hopefully, this story is a wake-up call to all pilots not to take their job and duty to the public for granted.
To speak with one of our Chicago accident attorneys, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500 for a free consultation.