Sterile Cockpit Rule

Introduction

- An US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rule which demands flight crew activities not to engage in unnecessary activities unrelated to operational requirements during crucial flight phases (taxiing, take off, initial climb out, approach and landing periods) typically below the flight altitude of 10,000 feet (Sumwalt, 1993).

- The FAA implemented the regulation in 1981 (Baron, 2010).

- The FAA discovered that a considerable number of aviation mishaps were the result of flight crew distraction. In these cases, the flight crew was not dedicating their attention to the piloting of the flight. For instance, they engage in unnecessary activities and topics unrelated to flight operations during crucial flight phases. As a result of aviation technological revolutions, quieter and comfortable flight operations make it conducive for crew distractions to nurture. In addition, a multi-flight crew operation and presence of cabin crews, computerized automations, in-flight meal services, newspaper service and other comforts further allow the probability and complacency for flight crew to engage in non-essential activities unrelated to flight operations (Baron, 2010).

Example of Flight Crew Distraction (leading to accident)

In 1974, despite executing a precise instrumental landing approach in dense fog, Eastern Air Lines Flight 212 landed short of the airstrip at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport and crashed. As the aircraft flight recorder revealed that the flight crew was engaging in casual conversations during the landing approach, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the flight crew was most likely not focusing on landing the aircraft (NTSB, 1975).

Human Factors Benefits:

Enhance Situational Awareness & Flight Safety

Although flight crews ought to display professionalism by executing safe flight operations in the first place, legal obligations remind flight crews of their responsibility to execute flight operations safely especially during crucial phases of the flight. With full attention and focus on operational demands, flight crews therefore display greater situational awareness to contribute to greater flight safety.

Controversial Ambiguity

There have been incidents whereby cabin crew who observed critical flight operational anomalies that could affect safety adversely while the flight was still below 10,000 feet, did not dare to convey their concerns to the flight crew for the fear of the rule violation (48th International Air Safety Seminar, 1995).

References

48th International Air Safety Seminar. (1995, November 7-9). Cockpit/ cabin crew performance: Recent research. Retrieved 28 August 2010, from http://www.raes-hfg.com/reports/10apr02-Hijacking/10apr02-cccrewperf.pdf.

Baron, R. (2010). The cockpit, the cabin and social psychology. Retrieved 28 August 2010, from http://www.airlinesafety.com/editorials/CockpitCabinPsychology.htm.

NTSB. (1975, May 23). Air accident report 75-9. Retrieved 28 August 2010, from http://www.airdisaster.com/reports/ntsb/AAR75-09.pdf.

Sumwalt, R.L. (1993, June). The sterile cockpit. Retrieved 28 August 2010, from http://web.archive.org/web/20070410193354/http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/directline_issues/dl4_sterile.htm.

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