March 3, 2010 | Ken Reed

Monitoring Airline Cockpit Conversations: The Debate Begins

NTSB reviews of recent airline accidents have found a common thread:  flight crews were violating the “sterile cockpit” rule by talking about non-flight related topics when below 10,000 (see article here).  The NTSB has recently asked to be allowed to routinely monitor the cockpit voice recorders which are already installed in all commercial aircraft.  They want to sample those recordings to see if there is a real problem.

Is this a big deal?  In the U.S. Navy, the submarine force has the same sterile cockpit rule for their nuclear watchstanders (we said that the maneuvering room had to remain “inviolate”).  We were not allowed to talk about non-work related topics for our entire 6-hour watch.  This was enforced by having an officer supervising 3 enlisted operators (because, of course, the officer would never violate the rule!), plus we had random checks by senior supervisory personnel to ensure we were all following the rule.  Like Rickover said, “Expect what you inspect.”

Is this a reasonable requirement to check on compliance with standards, or is this an unwarranted intrusion into the workplace? 
Will the new policy make a difference?
What unintended consequences can you think of that could occur by instituting this new policy? 

I look forward to your discussion!

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