Texting In Flight

While the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long highlighted its safety concerns about texting while driving, the agency is turning its attention to texting while in flight.  NTSB made a series of recommendations last week covering the use of portable electronic devices aboard aircraft flown under Parts 135 (on-demand) and 91 Subpart K (fractional). 

The recommendations – including for an outright ban on “non-operational” use of PEDs for pilots while flying under 135 and 91K -- stemmed from its investigation of the Aug. 26, 2011 crash of an Air Methods Eurocopter AS350 B2 helicopter that was on an emergency medical services (EMS) mission.

That accident was the apparent results of fuel exhaustion and the pilot’s failure to properly enter autorotation after the engine flameout. But the safety board cites as a contributing factor the “pilot’s distracted attention due to personal texting during safety-critical ground and flight operations.”

Investigators discovered that the pilot texted while the helicopter was in flight, while the helicopter was being prepared for return to service and during a call with the company’s communication specialist to discuss a potential shortage of fuel. This, NTSB says, “was a self-induced distraction that took his attention away from his primary responsibility to ensure safe flight operations.” While NTSB did not find evidence that the pilot was texting at the time of the engine failure, his texting while airborne violated the company’s cell phone use policy.

Air Methods President Mike Allen says the company already begun instituting safety improvements as a result of the investigation. Although PED use in flight was already prohibited by company policy, Allen says, “since the accident, we have instituted a zero tolerance policy for use of cell phones during flight.”

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