Avoiding Deadly Distractions
A pilot recently posted a video on YouTube and suggested his fellow aviators have a look. He was showing off his new GoPro camera setup in a Cessna 172. As the video starts, the first thing the viewer sees is the pilot taxiing toward the departure runway while simultaneously texting on his smartphone. The airplane veers off the yellow line for a few seconds before the pilot realizes and swerves back to the center.
He took an online beating for that move, and it wasn’t long before he pulled the video down and deleted his original posts asking pilots to check it out. Apparently this guy thought there was nothing wrong or unsafe about texting on a phone while operating an aircraft, otherwise he never would have uploaded the video in the first place.
In case you’re wondering, sterile cockpit procedures used by the airlines include the taxi phase of flight. Non-essential communication during taxi is kept to an absolute minimum. In your everyday flying, you too should consider the taxi phase a safety-critical time, during which the only thing you should be doing is taxiing the airplane while looking out for other ground traffic.
Texting while flying recently made the news when the NTSB determined that an EMS helicopter pilot ran out of fuel and crashed because he was texting before and even during the flight. Because of his texting (to a colleague about their dinner plans that night) he missed chances on more than one occasion to realize that his helicopter didn’t have enough fuel to complete the mission. When the engine quit about a mile from the destination, he was so surprised that he failed to execute a successful autorotaion. All four people onboard the helicopter were killed.
The trouble with distractions like texting while operating an airplane or helicopter is that they take the pilot's cognitive attention away from the job ahead — safely preparing for a flight and then executing it. The FAA has released guidance to airline crews prohibiting the use of personal electronics. That change came after a pair of airline pilots became so engrossed by what was on their laptop screens that they tuned out ATC and flew right past their destination.
If seasoned professionals can easily fall victim to the distractions caused by cellphones and laptops, there’s no question the typical private pilot who probably doesn’t fly nearly as often faces the same dangers magnified by who knows what value. There are times when texting or other PED use is unavoidable, but it should never happen while the engine is running. Use of smartphones before a flight should be limited to the essentials (checking weather, filing flight plans, texting a spouse that you’ll be home late, etc.) with extra care taken to ensure these activities don’t detract from the tasks related to flying the airplane.