Instagram cockpit photos or those taken from the cockpit may cost pilots their jobs, because they indirectly violate safety air traffic rules adopted in the United States and Europe. These rules do not allow airline pilots to use electronic devices for personal purposes while on duty. A stricter, more specific regulation called “sterile cockpit” prohibits doing anything not related to plane operations while the aircraft is taking off and landing at low altitudes.
Instagram accounts of pilots are flying high with popularity. Their scenic pictures of the skies, sunsets, aerial views and even selfies while on duty, captured from the cockpit, gain hundreds or thousands of likes from fans and followers. Pilots take photos while on duty, knowing these are against the rules, even during the critical flight phases of takeoff and landing. Critical flight time does not allow idle conversation in the cockpit, much less taking pictures. However, landing photos abound on Instagram.
American and European regulators forbid using most any electronic device or taking photos while piloting a commercial plane, large or small. Some American pilots addressed the Federal Aviation Administration to consider using electronic devices in the cockpit, as they can help them cope with boredom. They have suggested that, in that way, it contributes to flight safety. The FAA however, is not convinced. In February this year, it banned all pilots from using electronic devices in the cockpit.
A typical flight has two pilots operating the aircraft. One flies the plane and the other monitors the radio. Both are subject to sterile cockpit rules.
Safety experts, veteran pilots and airlines continue to emphasize how important regulations are. According to Charles Bernat, a retired United Airlines pilot who flew for 29 years, safety is the primary concern in commercial aviation with no area of compromise. Holding a device or a camera is a big “no.”
With rules clearly expressed, Instagram cockpit photos may cost the pilots their jobs, especially if proven that they took those photos themselves. Pilots are not allowed to use personal electronic devices, even during lax time, when the plane is on auto-pilot. This is to make sure they focus on flight duties. Recently, FAA electronics usage regulations have become somewhat lenient for passengers, but reinforced for pilots.
Veteran pilot Tom Hoban, who flies the American Airlines Airbus A320 and is also the American Airlines Pilots Union spokesman said pilots are busiest on the flight’s first 30 minutes. Taking pictures is a grave disruption and a violation of the American Airlines regulations, he commented.
Such also violates regulations set by the FAA, the Civilian Aviation Authority in the UK, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the International Civil Aviation Organization of the United Nations. Many plane crashes in the past were said to have been caused by violations of cockpit rules, such as the Colgan Air flight with 49 people on board, which crashed in 2009 while approaching Buffalo airport in New York.
Pilots must focus on the needed operational activities. They are expected not to read, drink, eat or talk about anything irrelevant to flying the aircraft. They absolutely are not allowed to take photos, but their Instagram accounts show otherwise.
Many pilots’ Instagram photos suggest they routinely snap during the flight’s most crucial phases, when concentration is needed the most. There is no strong evidence though that these acts put the flight in danger, as there are possibilities that the pictures are taken by simulators, from behind the flight crew, or at a safe altitude during cruising.
It is indeed difficult not to be amazed at the stunning views from above and be awed by the wonderful scenes which pilots are so privileged to enjoy every day. While Instagram cockpit photos may cost pilots their jobs, their passengers may hope they pay more attention to their flight duties than documenting the sight before them for their Instagram followers.
By Judith Aparri
Photo courtesy of Vincent Barnhard – Flicker License