Pilots texting while flying

April 20th, 2012 at 8:41 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Confused pilots forgot to lower the wheels and had to abort a landing in Singapore just 150 metres above the ground, after the captain became distracted by his mobile phone, an investigation has found.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau report on the May 27, 2010 incident on Flight JQ57, from Darwin to Singapore, reconstructed a scene of cockpit chaos.

The captain, of more than 13,000 hours flying experience, was distracted by incoming text messages on his phone, while the first officer, of more than 4000 hours experience, was probably fatigued, the report said.

So passengers get told phones must be turned off as they may interfere, but flight staff have their phones on – even during a landing. Is this usual?

Somewhere between 2500 feet and 2000 feet, the captain’s mobile phone started beeping with incoming text messages, and the captain twice did not respond to the co-pilot’s requests.

The co-pilot looked over and saw the captain “preoccupied with his mobile phone”, investigators said. The captain told investigators he was trying to unlock the phone to turn it off, after having forgotten to do so before take-off.

You do not need to unlock a phone to turn it off.

At 1000 feet, the co-pilot scanned the instruments and felt “something was not quite right” but could not spot what it was.

At this stage the captain still did not realise the landing gear had not been lowered, and neither pilot went through their landing checklist.

At 720 feet, a cockpit alert flashed and sounded to warn that the wheels still hadn’t been lowered.

At 650 feet, the captain moved the undercarriage lever “instinctively” but then a “too low” ground-warning alarm sounded as the plane sunk through 500 feet, indicating the landing gear was not fully extended and locked.

The co-pilot was confused by the captain’s action in lowering the wheels, as he was getting ready to do quite the opposite  to abort the landing and re-ascend to the skies, investigators said.

Neither spoke to each other about their intentions.

Good God. So both were trying to land the plane independent of each other. That is real mickey mouse territory.

My policy to never fly Jetstar only applies to their NZ domestic operations currently. On the basis of this report, I’m tempted to apply it globally.

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36 Responses to “Pilots texting while flying”

  1. Nigel (517 comments) says:

    I prefer to fly airnz, was GE last year, but I’ll fly jetstar in NZ if AirNZ are sold out of cheaper tickets, I guess I’ll pay 20% more for AirNZ.

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  2. dime (9,805 comments) says:

    lol no its not usual practice.

    this sounds like career over territory

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  3. eszett (2,392 comments) says:

    So passengers get told phones must be turned off as they may interfere, but flight staff have their phones on – even during a landing. Is this usual?

    On shitstar, probably.

    Good God. So both were trying to land the plane independent of each other. That is real mickey mouse territory.

    You couldn’t pay me enough to fly them.

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  4. Razork (375 comments) says:

    Either it’s safe to have a mobile turned on during take off or landing, or it’s not.

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  5. MT_Tinman (3,093 comments) says:

    You do not need to unlock a phone to turn it off.

    You do mine.

    If the poor bastard also got stuck with a Sony Eriksson Xperia he has my sympathy.

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  6. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    Pilots are very status sensitive. There are plenty of crash reports where the cause really came down to a co-pilot being unwilling to question a pilot. Sort of like the military, where I suspect there are a lot of failures due to a culture where an enlisted soldier can’t tell an officer that he is being a knob.

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  7. corner-shop...not (16 comments) says:

    This will not come as any surprise to other Pilots flying for other more reputable airlines. A neighbour – a shuttle van driver recounted a story to me in which he was carrying two Qantas Pilots (i know same parent compans JQ). The qantas pilots were talking amongst themselves about how pissed off they were that whilst they (the QF pilots) had to jump through hoops and do every safety scenario under the sun regularly to keep flying —> their counterparts at JQ had far less hoopjumping and a lot of online do it yourself developmental training. These guys were livered about the 2 differing practices in the same parent airline – with differnt rules for the cheaper airline’s pilots. He said they were really berating the flying ability of JQ pilots. GULP….!

    Now this is a second hand story from an overheard conversation, but if true – fark!!! I have never flown JQ since learning this….

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  8. dubya (228 comments) says:

    MT, you can turn off an Xperia Active whilst locked, by holding pressing the left upper side lock button once, then pressing again and holding down. It’ll bring up a menu for Power off, Flight Mode etc.

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  9. RRM (9,772 comments) says:

    Frightening article.

    Sort of thing you expect from outfits like Congo Airlines and Air Uzbekistan, not airlines operating in civilised countries…

    [Though I do recall when arming flight crew was first proposed in the years after 9/11, and a tale of drunken pilots in the U.S. broke at the same time, Letterman got a lot of mileage out of jokes about how the guns could perhaps be stored in the cockpit liquor cabinet...]

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  10. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    I fly 80-100 sectors every year.. and steadfastly refuse to fly JetBizarre. This story help reinforce my commitment.

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  11. transmogrifier (522 comments) says:

    Considering the fact that many plane crashes are the result of pilot error, this should come as no surprise. Hell, the Air France fight that disappeared in the middle of a storm between Brazil and France a few years back only crashed because the co-pilot, in response to a stall (a low-speed condition that means you can’t get enough lift to keep the plane in the air, where the standard procedure is to lower the nose so you dive and pick up speed, and hence lift, again) actively pulled back on the steering column, keeping the nose lifted, all the way down to the ocean surface, even while the pilot was trying to do the opposite with his steering column – and they didn’t communicate with each other over this pretty important fact until right at the end. Scary recap here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/aviation/crashes/what-really-happened-aboard-air-france-447-6611877

    But I don’t think I’ll ever stoop to flying JetStar.

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  12. MT_Tinman (3,093 comments) says:

    dubya, my 15month old Xperia has no left upper side lock button .

    I was given the ‘phone as a replacement when my previous ‘phone crapped out completely months after I purchased it and the only reason I still use it is I’m too bloody tight to buy another until telecom give me enough credits to make the purchase worthwhile.

    Suffice to say I will never again purchase anything bearing a Sony Eriksson label and, quite honestly, were it not essential for business I wouldn’t again buy a cellphone.

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  13. davidp (3,574 comments) says:

    Transmog… Then you have the Concorde crash where the flight engineer shut down one of the engines without telling the pilots. For no good reason. They needed thrust to stay in the air and crashed soon after.

    Which is not the worst error in that crash. They were carrying too much baggage weight than the absolute maximum in the manufacturer’s documents. The baggage was loaded towards the back of the aircraft so it was tail heavy. They took off with the wind behind them. And one of the undercarriage wheels was lose and wobbling.

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  14. Mary Rose (393 comments) says:

    Things you never want to overhear a pilot saying:
    “You ever flown a REAL plane before?… Me neither.”
    “What does that flashing red light mean?”
    “I wonder what happens if I flick that switch?”
    “Oops”

    And now we can add:
    “How do I type a happy face?”
    “Ever get the feeling you forgot to do something important?”

    Seriously scary.

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  15. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    On the subject of airliner crashes, I enjoyed Airframe by Michael Crichton a few years ago. I read it while flying from NZ to Spain, so had plenty of time to contemplate what might, or should have been happening up the pointy end of the pressurized metal tube.

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  16. nasska (11,138 comments) says:

    krazykiwi

    Don’t worry about the dangers of flying. It’s cycling that will make your life of piety worthwhile…..I’ve just about got the laser sights on the Landcruiser sorted.

    When you see the little red dot on your Lycra it’s too late!

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  17. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    Also love some of the Far Side cartoons here, here and here :D

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  18. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    nasska – I’m ready for you. :)

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  19. nasska (11,138 comments) says:

    krazykiwi

    Thanks for the warning…..I’ll shift into stealth mode.

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  20. Nookin (3,264 comments) says:

    Right — where’s that prick in the landcruiser?

    http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=machine+gun+bicycle&hl=en&client=firefox-a&hs=hA1&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&prmd=imvns&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=QpSQT5WGKOmRiQfngKmWBA&ved=0CFUQsAQ&biw=1440&bih=676&sei=bZSQT9_gH66iiAekrbWSBA

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  21. slijmbal (1,231 comments) says:

    Did some software work with a US professor who had involvement with software on planes (before he became an academic). We were talking usual rubbish and I asked him about phones and planes. He was scathing of the fact that electronic devices needed to be turned off as they really couldn’t cause the plane to suddenly plummet out of the sky or affect the controls. It just physically wasn’t possible to cause any effects unless the pilot was holding the phone 2 inches from 1 or 2 specific devices that didn’t get used during takeoff and landing.

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  22. nasska (11,138 comments) says:

    Shit! Bunny hunting’s getting dangerous!

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  23. dime (9,805 comments) says:

    davidp – i think thats more the asian pilots and maybe some ex-military guys

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  24. dime (9,805 comments) says:

    the most terrifying thing i have ever seen – two chicks pilots!!!

    one chick pilot is bad enough.. but two? screw that

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  25. orewa1 (428 comments) says:

    At least give Jetstar brownie points for consistency between their customer service and safety practices.

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  26. insider (1,037 comments) says:

    I can think of worse things than screwing two chick pilots dime….

    Note that women heavy plant drivers in the australian mines are considered safer than men because they are more cautious

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  27. Nigel (517 comments) says:

    insider, I got told they are reevaluating that idea, women might be more cautious as mine drivers, but when they do have an accident it’s proven to be more expensive & that it has balanced things out, so the mines are not favouring women anymore.

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  28. RRM (9,772 comments) says:

    Although I guess all of this still pales into pilot malpractice insignificance compared to how frequently Biggles used to slide into the cockpit alongside Ginger and relieve Algie…

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  29. mister nui (1,020 comments) says:

    dime, one of them wasn’t Trevor Mallard’s daughter was it? You know she is, or at least was, an AirNZ pilot on the turbo-props.

    Talking about chick pilots; I got on a chopper to leave a platform one day, and the pilot came over our headsets, the look of terror on all these big tough boys as they realised the pilot was a chick was priceless!

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  30. krazykiwi (9,189 comments) says:

    one chick pilot is bad enough.. but two? screw that

    It’s them dime. Them. Seeesh, the quality of our schooling these days …. :)

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  31. Alan Wilkinson (1,866 comments) says:

    You do not need to unlock a phone to turn it off.

    Yes, you do – for mine at least.

    So passengers get told phones must be turned off as they may interfere, but flight staff have their phones on – even during a landing.

    Flew right around Aus in a small plane with a pilot who used his phone to communicate with base staff the whole way. He said the interference with instruments issue was nonsense. We were on visual flight rules though.

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  32. mister nui (1,020 comments) says:

    Yeah, agree with all of those saying that the “turn your phone off for take-off and landing” is nonsense. I fly just a little bit, about 80 long-haul sectors per year, and quite often forget to turn my phone off. I know of many others that never turn their phones off.

    When I was working in Russia; as we would be coming in to land all the Russians would be on their phones calling their comrades telling them to come and pick them up…. It was hilarious watching the poor German trolley dollys running up and down the aisle yelling das ist verboten!

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  33. peteremcc (342 comments) says:

    The guy forgot to turn his phone off, it happens all the time.

    Then when they got low enough it got the signal back and messages started arriving again which distracted him.

    It’s probably everyone going on about how “dangerous” cell phones can be on planes that made him panic and try and turn it off.

    He probably should have just left it on and landed anyway.

    And note this was up at 2500 to 2000 feet, not 150m as implied by the article.

    The article combines the two incidents, when actually it’s two different ones.

    The checklist issue is a separate and more serious problem – 5 seconds to turn your phone off at 2500 feet isn’t really a big deal.

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  34. peteremcc (342 comments) says:

    Also, the only potentially legitimate excuse I’ve heard for forcing people to turn their phone off is that LOTS of phones on and transmitting could cause a problem.

    Given there’s no real way to ensure only a few phones are on, then banning them would make sense.

    Overall, I still think it’s a load of crap.

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  35. infused (652 comments) says:

    You do need to unlock a phone to turn it off if it has a key.

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  36. Johnboy (15,903 comments) says:

    Thank G_d everything I ever drove had fixed U/C or I would have forgotten it too in my panic.

    The workload when things go pear shaped in aviation is such that only those who have sat in the hot seat should really have anything to say at times like this.

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