Proposed FAA rule bans flightcrew from personal use of electronics

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Flightcrew could soon be prohibited from using electronic devices or laptops for personal use during all phases of flight, according to the US Federal Aviation Administration.

A notice of proposed rulemaking that will be published on 15 January in the Federal Register will bring flight deck rules regarding the usage of personal electronic devices in line with the FAA Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012. The law makes it illegal for flightcrew to use electronic devices for personal use while at their duty station.

The congressional act does permit the flightcrew to use these devices for operating the aircraft, as well as for "safety-related" and "employment-related" communications allowed under a carrier's operating procedures.

In some parts of flight, the use of these electronic devices is mandated by the 1981 "sterile cockpit" rule, the notice says. This rule prohibits flightcrew from partaking in activities unrelated to safety that could pose distractions, but only during critical phases of flight. These include taxiing, take-off, landing and flying below 10,000ft (3,050m).

Several past incidents prompted Congress to tighten the rules on personal electronics use, the FAA points out.

In 2009, Flightglobal reported that two Northwest Airlines pilots on an Airbus A320 flight from San Diego to Minneapolis overflew their destination airport by 150nm (277km) on 21 October of that year. The pilots told National Transportation Safety Board investigators they were using personal laptops during the flight.

The FAA points to another instance when a pilot sent a text message on her personal phone while the aircraft was taxiing.

The proposed rulemaking will be open for comments until 60 days after publication.