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FAA cracks down on pilots using personal digital devices during flights

Distraction causes safety concerns

January 18, 2013

air travelPilots won't be allowed to use smartphones or laptop computers for non-work purposes -- like surfing the web or sending emails - under a rule being proposed by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). At issue: potentially dangerous distractions, such as a 2009 incident in which two Northwest Airlines pilots flew 150 miles past their destination because they were engrossed in using their laptop computers for personal activities.

The rule published in the Federal Register this week would ban flight crews from accessing electronic devices for their personal use while they are on duty on the flight deck.

Pilots who are required to use e-devices for job purposes will not be affected by the ban. Some airlines -- like United Airlines and Alaska Airlines - allow pilots to use iPads in leiu of cumbersome hardcover flight manuals.

A ban covering the critical phases of flights -- when the plane is taxiing, taking off, landing or flying at low altitudes -- already exists. The new proposal would apply to the entire flight. Ownership of the device -- whether personal or by an employer -- is not a factor, only whether the activity involving the device is approved by the FAA.

The government will accept comments on the rule until March 18.