Pilots of doomed flight violated “sterile cockpit rule” below 10,000 feet

Also in today’s New York Post, Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, explains precisely what the pilot and first officer did wrong on the flight from Newark to Buffalo:

May 13, 2009

THIS went beyond the normal banter back and forth be tween a pilot and his first officer.

There’s nothing wrong with some chit-chat, normally. It’s part of the routine. Like driving a car somewhere, it’s nice to have someone to talk to and keep you alert.

Captains often pass on their experience to their co-pilots. It’s part of the learning process.

But Capt. Marvin Renslow carried it on into the descent. That’s a definite concern.

Renslow and First Officer Rebecca Shaw did not give me the impression that they followed what we consider acceptable sterile cockpit guidelines below 10,000 feet.

We have that rule so that pilots stay focused and pay attention to the aircraft. The only things the crew should discuss are the tasks at hand, radio calls and checklist items. Nothing extraneous.

Look at Comair Flight 5191 in 2006. The pilot and first officer were so busy talking to each other they failed to follow proper takeoff procedures in Kentucky, resulting in the deaths of 49 people.

So when Renslow and Shaw both remark on the amount of ice buildup at 4,000 feet, they should have piped down with the small talk.

Renslow said that it was the most ice he had seen in a long time. Instead of letting that fact jerk him to attention, he kept up the banter with Shaw.

During the final approach, with the flaps up and landing checklist complete, Renslow is still talking about past flights. He should have been 100 percent focused on the present.

Bill Voss, president of the Flight Safety Foundation, is a licensed air transport pilot, flight instructor and air traffic controller.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 13, 2009 11:05 AM | Send

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