Rhyme and Reason

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It is important that the use of cell phones and PEDs onboard aircraft is controlled

Recently, I was on a flight and heard an all too familiar announcement, “The cabin door is now closed. Please discontinue the use of all electronic devices.” It appeared the voice on the PA fell on deaf ears. I saw people continue to type away on their phones. Most eventually turned them off. One individual continued typing away even after a flight attendant asked him directly to turn it off. By the time we took to the runway, he had begun to power down. But it’s hard to ignore how long he failed to follow the announcement/request. Were we in any danger? Most likely not, as we were only taxiing. Still his action, or lack of, was a disregard for the rules.

Not too long ago, a well-known person was involved in a dispute on an aircraft regarding phone use after being told to turn it off. Reading the comments was entertaining. I had no idea so many people were A&Ps, engineers, or electronics experts. The basics of the comments were: “I leave my phone on all the time and nothing happens” or “I have yet to hear of this causing a crash.” Maybe they’ve been lucky, or the “right” set of circumstances hasn’t happened, or maybe they are right and there is no issue. But who wants to find out the hard way?

It’s often said that many regulations are written in blood. Thankfully this isn’t one of them. The general public can’t begin to fathom the complexity of modern aircraft and navigation. They don’t understand the complexity, so they can’t understand the basis for the rule.

I’ve found that people follow rules better when they know why they were formulated (try explaining to Joe Public a fly-by-wire aircraft shooting a Cat III approach and all the intricacies involved and how the electronic field of his phone could affect it). This is an important point when working with your SMS. As you receive risk reports and make assessments you will most likely begin to modify existing procedures or adopt new ones. As these are rolled out, employees should be given an explanation as to why (through your feedback loop and safety promotion program) the changes are occurring. Explaining will help clarify in their minds why the old procedure is wrong and should not be followed anymore or why a new procedure was needed. In places with a less than ideal culture, I’ve heard employees complain of changed or new procedures and saying that management just changed the procedure to annoy them as a consequence of some previous issue when often there are solid safety issues supporting the change.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules prohibit the use of cellular phones using the 800 MHz frequency and other wireless devices on airborne aircraft. This ban was put in place because of potential interference to wireless networks on the ground.

In addition to the FCC’s rules, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricts in-flight use of PEDs such as wireless devices because of potential interference to the aircraft’s navigation and communication systems. The basis for the portable electronic device “rule” came from the RTCA/DO-233 “Portable Electronic Devices Carried on Board Aircraft” and the FAA Advisory Circular (AC) 91-21.1B.

I can’t give you the details of the report but considering that the RTCA conducts thorough studies and analysis there is probably evidence that the potential for PED interference exists, even if it is remote.

It is important that the use of cell phones and PEDs is controlled, especially during early parts of flight because that’s when most of the safety information is being given. They are afraid people will be distracted by talking on a phone or listening to an iPod and therefore not listen to the safety announcements.

Do your best to follow them and believe that they are there for a reason.

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1 Comment on "Rhyme and Reason"

  1. Captain John Cox discusses the the use of electronic devices in his USA Today column this week (http://travel.usatoday.com/experts/cox/story/2011/01/Ask-the-Captain-Why-cant-I-use-my-cellphoneKindleiPad-in-flight/43067102/1). I also wanted to clarify the the true topic of this blog was to encourage you to share the rhyme and reason changes are made within your organization. A little knowledge goes a long way in getting people on board for something new.


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