Lawmakers seek ban on laptops in airliner cockpits

Nov 03, 2009 By JOAN LOWY , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- Lawmakers are moving to ban the use of computer laptops and other personal electronic devices in airline cockpits to prevent another incident like the Northwest Airlines plane that overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said in an interview that his staff is working on a bill that he expects to introduce in about a week. He said he was surprised to learn after the Oct. 21 incident that the doesn't specifically prohibit pilots from using laptops, DVD players, MP3 players and other devices during flight except below 10,000 feet while the plane is taking off or landing.

The two pilots of Northwest Flight 188 told National investigators that they didn't notice repeated attempts by air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers to contact them because they were working on a new crew scheduling program on their laptops. The plane carrying 144 passengers was out of communication with anyone on the ground for 91 minutes, prompting the military to ready fighter jets for launch and the White House situation room to alert senior White House officials.

The plane zoomed past its Minneapolis destination before the pilots were alerted to their situation by a flight attendant. By that time, the plane was over Wisconsin.

"We now understand from this flight at least that this can happen and there ought to be a more clear understanding by everyone in the cockpit that there is a national standard that would prohibit this and that they need to take it seriously," said Dorgan, D-N.D.

Delta Air Lines, which acquired Northwest last year, has a policy prohibiting the use of personal laptops by pilots during flight. The airline has suspended the two pilots - Timothy Cheney of Gig Harbor, Wash., the captain, and Richard Cole of Salem, Ore., the first officer - pending an investigation. The FAA has revoked the pilots' licenses, and the NTSB is investigating the cause of the incident.

Dorgan said he expects his proposal to eventually be wrapped into a larger aviation bill pending before the Senate. He also said he doesn't anticipate any opposition to the measure.

Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has also said he wants to introduce legislation to prohibit pilots from using laptops and other personal devices during flight, and several other senators expressed support for a ban at a hearing last week.

Dorgan said his bill will make an exception for "electronic bags" - laptops containing navigational tools issued to pilots by some airlines.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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5 / 5 (3) Nov 03, 2009
Banning laptops or other gadgets is not a solution to the issue. The real problem is a blatant disregard to safety and regulations, and a false sense of security that lulls such sub-par pilots into sloppiness.

Remove all toys, and you'll eventually catch them playing with themselves.

Unless the pilots have a professional attitude, and respect for their job and responsibility, there really isn't much we can do.
5 / 5 (2) Nov 03, 2009
@gwrede I agree. I don't understand the fascination with banning. In addition to putting warning labels on everything (see: metal baseball bat case), soon everything will banned or have a warning label on it.
Perhaps the fact that wages for pilots have decreased over the years is to blame, not the laptops. If laptops are to be banned from the cockpit, it should be done by initiative of the airline, not lawmakers.
What they suggest pilots do during those 5+ hour flights while the plane is on auto-pilot? sleep? I rather they be entertained (and alert) by something they can just put down in case of an emergency.

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