When thinking about distracted driving, one’s mind generally gravitates towards motor vehicle accidents. Assuming that distracted driving stops with cars, trucks, and motorcycles however would be a mistake. The same distractions that affect drivers on the road today also hinder pilots in the sky.
Federal Aviation Administration rules stipulate that pilots should not use their cell phone, lap top, or tablet while flying, but just as is the case with automobile travel, not everyone follows the rules. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, civil aviation accidents declined from 1537 in 2012 to 1298 in 2013 also leading to a decline in fatalities from 449 to 429 but, pilot error is still the main contributing factor for fatal airplane crashes, being responsible for over 50% of crashes.
And many times, this pilot error is due to cell phone use. Here are a few recent examples:
- In 2011, a medical evacuation helicopter crash killed a pilot and four people when the helicopter ran out of fuel a mile short of the final destination. According to the report, the pilot was having a text conversation both on the ground and while flying the helicopter with one hand, causing him to overlook the fact that his helicopter did not have enough fuel to complete the entire trip.
- In 2012, a commercial aircraft had to abort its landing 392 feet from the ground because the pilot, who had 13,000hrs of flying experience no less, was distracted by his cell phone and forgot to put the landing gear down.
- In 2015, a small plane crashed in Colorado killed a pilot and passenger because he lost control of the aircraft while taking a selfie. Phone records later revealed that the pilot was also assumed to have been texting both on the climb-out phase and the downwind leg.
The dangers of distraction don’t just stop with the driver or pilot. With so many other parties involved in a plane flight, distractions of other who aren’t even in the cockpit can have a negative impact. Take for example the Hudson River mid-air collision in 2009 which killed nine people when a helicopter and small plane collided in midair. The air traffic controller at Teterboro Airport had taken a private phone call from his girlfriend, leading to series of errors that prevented the helicopter and airplane from being notified of their impending collision.
These are just a few of the more high profile cases, but there are plenty more instances of distractions that have caused pilots to enter the wrong runway or make mistakes while taxiing. Something as innocuous as the ring of a cell phone can be enough of a distraction while flying to lead to a fatal accident. Even removing distraction and error from the equation, simply flying an aircraft requires far more concentration than driving a car. Commercial aircrafts can have hundreds of controls to monitor including communication with air traffic control, weather conditions, navigation, and oxygen levels. The list is almost endless.
Any airplane accident lawyer will tell you that the chance of being killed on a plane flight is much lower than by an automobile accident, 1 in 11 million to be more precise. However, accidents do occur and due to their nature, they tend to be much more severe. With the already complex nature of flying an aircraft as well as the severity of consequences, the danger of adding distractions to aviation, much like driving, cannot be overstated.