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FAA wants airlines to limit cockpit distractions

After two pilots on their laptop computers overshot the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles, the FAA wants airlines to create and enforce policies that will limit cockpit distractions.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Federal Aviation Administration wants airlines to create and enforce policies that will limit cockpit distractions.

The guidance announced Monday comes after an October 2009 incident in which two Northwest Airlines pilots overshot the Minneapolis airport by 150 miles because they say they were engrossed in a complicated new crew-scheduling program on their laptop computers.

In the FAA's information for operators guidance, the agency asks carriers to address the issue of distraction through their crew training programs and to create a safety culture to control cockpit distractions.

The FAA said any cockpit distraction that diverts attention from required duties can constitute a safety risk, including the use of personal electronic devices for activities unrelated to flight.

Delta Air Lines Inc., which acquired Northwest in 2008, is now operating on a single operating certificate from the FAA. The Northwest name has been phased out. Delta is based in Atlanta.

Last month, the two pilots who operated the wayward flight agreed not to fight the revocations of their licenses but could fly again under an agreement they reached with federal authorities. Under the settlement released by the FAA, Timothy Cheney and Richard Cole can apply for new licenses Aug. 29.

Cheney, the captain of Flight 188, and Cole, the first officer, told investigators that he and Cole were unaware that air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers had been struggling to make radio contact with them for more than an hour, or that the military was readying fighter jets to intercept them.

Also in March, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended to the FAA that better communications procedures related to air traffic control be adopted.

Legislation pending before Congress to reauthorize FAA programs contains a provision that would bar flight crews from using personal electronic devices in the cockpit. The provision would give the ban the force of law, rather than guidance.