WASHINGTON — Lawmakers are moving to ban the use of computer laptops and other personal electronic devices in airline cockpits to prevent another incident like the Northwest Airlines plane that overshot Minneapolis by 150 miles.
Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the aviation subcommittee, said in an interview that his staff is working on a bill that he expects to introduce in about a week. He said he was surprised to learn after the Oct. 21 incident that the Federal Aviation Administration doesn't specifically prohibit pilots from using laptops, DVD players, MP3 players and other devices during flight except below 10,000 feet while the plane is taking off or landing.
The two pilots of Northwest Flight 188 told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that they didn't notice repeated attempts by air traffic controllers and airline dispatchers to contact them because they were working on a new crew scheduling program on their laptops. The plane carrying 144 passengers was out of communication with anyone on the ground for 91 minutes, prompting the military to ready fighter jets for launch.
"We now understand from this flight at least that this can happen and there ought to be a more clear understanding by everyone in the cockpit that there is a national standard that would prohibit this and that they need to take it seriously," said Dorgan, D-N.D.
The two pilots have been suspended, pending an investigation. The FAA has revoked the pilots' licenses, and the NTSB is investigating the incident.