Sterile Cockpit


Sterile cockpit was first introduced in 1981 by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after a series of accidents were reviewed and found that the reason of the crash was due to flight crews being distracted from their flying duties by engaging in unnecessary conversations and activities during the critical phase of flight.[2] One such remarkable accident occur in 1974 that NTSB investigation revealed that the distractions and discussion of non-essential flight issue were the cause of the Eastern Airline Flight 212 crash in Charlotte, North Carolina. 71 out of 82 lives were lost due to the pilots’ discussion on politics rather than planning their approach into Charlotte Douglas Airport in bad weather.[4] Following the investigation, NTSB issued the probable cause statement for the accident: “The flight crew’s lack of altitude awareness at critical points during approach due to poor cockpit discipline in that the crew did not followed prescribed procedure.”[1]

Sterile Cockpit Rule

The following reference the US FAR 121.542 and FAR 135.100. It states that:

  • “No flight crew member may perform any duties during a critical phase of flight not required for the safe operation of the aircraft.”
  • “No flight crew member may engage in, or may any PIC permit, any activity during a critical phase of flight which could distract any flight crew member from the performance of his/her duties or which could interfere in any way with the proper conduct of those duties.”
  • “Critical phases of flight include all ground operations involving taxi (movement of an airplane under its own power on the surface of an airport), take-off and landing, and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet MSL, except during cruise flight.[3]


The start of the sterile cockpit begins with the OK to taxi indication from the “A” flight attendant closing the flight deck door which “actions begins Sterile Cockpit.” The end of the sterile cockpit period is marked by a PA from the flight deck to the cabin “Announce: ‘Passing through 10,000.’” This is for take off. Just prior to descent, the flight deck should make a public address to the cabin “indicating approximately 15-20 minutes from landing.” To indicate the beginning of sterile cockpit period, the flight deck should make a PA to the cabin “As the aircraft descends through 10,000 feet, flight crew announces the following: ‘Prepare cabin for arrival.’” After landing, a single chime from the flight deck to the cabin “Ends Sterile Cockpit – Fasten Seat Belt sign turned off.”[5]

2. Baron, R. (1995). The cockpit, the cabin and social psychology. Retieved from Airline Safety
3. Federal Aviation Administration US FAR 121.542
4. National Transportation Safety Board. (1975) Aircarft accident report. Retrieved from Air
5. **National Transportation Safety Board at the Attachment 6: Sterile Cockpit Procedure

Want to know more?

  1. Eastern Airline Flight 212

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