A terrifying incident in the air raised a host of worries about the dangers of distracted flying. For the first time ever, the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that a cellphone was found to be a cause of a commercial airplane crash. The determination has many afraid that a new can of worms has been opened, this time involving very large and very fast planes. Safety groups are calling for the FAA to intervene now before the problem gets worse and issue an important rule that would prohibit pilots from using personal electronic devices while in flight.
The incident of the texting pilot took place on August 26, 2011 in Missouri. A medical helicopter pilot was found to be distracted due to sending several hundreds text messages over the course of his shift that day. Immediately before the accident, records show the pilot sent and received nearly 20 text messages. While the text messages did not cause the accident in the same way that texting can cause a car crash, by taking your eyes off the road, it did lead to deadly distraction which was ultimately responsible for the crash.
The NTSB investigation revealed that the pilot was distracted by using his phone and took off from a hospital carrying an injured patient, an EMT and a flight nurse without the required fuel to reach his destination. While en route to the second hospital the engine in the helicopter locked up due to lack of fuel and the aircraft crashed into a field, killing all four people onboard.
Though the company responsible for the medical helicopter had a policy requiring its pilots not to use personal electronic devices while on duty, it was obviously ignored. It’s shocking to most people that despite the obvious dangers of texting while flying, the FAA has never issued any specific rules outlawing the practice. On the heels of the recent texting helicopter crash, the FAA is under scrutiny for not taking action to prohibit texting in the nation’s airline cockpits.
Last January, Congress ordered the FAA to issue a rule prohibiting the use of electronic devices among airline flight crews while in the cockpit. Despite this directive, no rule has been issued. Rather than immediately implement a direct final rule that would bypass the usual comment and public notice process, the FAA dragged its feet and only issued a proposed rule in January of this year, eight months later than Congress requested. Comments are still being gathered slowly before a final decision is made, all the while flight crews across the country have been left with no firm order not to use personal electronic devices in the cockpit.
Source: “FAA Foot-Dragging on Rule to Prohibit Texting and Flying,” by John Goglia, published at Forbes.com.
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