Small Talk in the Cockpit Is a Big Problem Requiring More Than Just Lip Service

May 1, 2007
Document: "Small Talk in the Cockpit Is a Big Problem Requiring More Than Just Lip Service"

By David Rapoport and Joshua Weisberg

Published in Issues in Aviation Law and Policy in 2007, this article provides a glimpse into the recurring problem of airline pilots violating the "sterile cockpit" rule, a federal regulation prohibiting nonpertinent conversation in the cockpit of an airplane during critical phases of flight. The article presents the history of the rule and several tragic examples of the consequences of violating it. Interestingly, after this article was published, Rapoport Weisberg & Sims P.C. was retained to represent the estate and children of one of the deceased passengers of Comair Flight 5191, the airplane crash detailed in the article's opening paragraph. On August 27, 2006, Flight 5191 crashed shortly after takeoff in Lexington, Kentucky, killing 49 people. It was revealed that the pilots of Flight 5191 were in blatant violation of the sterile cockpit rule, and that their deviation from the rule played a significant role in the pilots' taking off on the wrong runway, leading to the devastating crash. In addition to describing the consequences of ignoring the rule, Mr. Rapoport and Mr. Weisberg set forth recommendations for promoting and ensuring pilot compliance with this important federal regulation.

2007, CCH INCORPORATED. All Rights Reserved Reprinted with permission from "Issues in Aviation Law and Policy."