Earlier this week, I introduced readers to United Airlines Boeing 787 pilot Troy Booker, who keeps an excellent Instgram account filled with compelling photographs from the flight deck.
Booker is among a group of social media savvy pilots. Many use their iPhones and Go Pros to take photos and videos during the flight, giving passengers an idea of what it takes to be a commercial pilot. Pilots generally wait until they reach the ground before posting to popular sites.
As someone who wants to know what happens in the cockpit, I love these social media accounts. But a story this week on qz.com -- a highly-respected Atlantic media website -- is very critical of the practice. It suggests that it is against FAA rules.
"Taking photos, or using most any electronic device, while piloting a commercial aircraft is prohibited by American and European regulators," author David Yanofsky writes. "Pilots for airlines large and small, flying planes of all sizes, seem to be violating the safety rules, taking photos with their phones as well as GoPro cameras mounted inside the cockpit. Some also appear to be flaunting even stricter regulations for takeoff and landing, when not even idle conversation is allowed in the cockpit."
Yanofsky is especially concerned that pilots take videos and photos while an aircraft is landing, during a period in which the cockpit is supposed to be sterile, with no one handling extraneous tasks. I have always presumed most of these videos were either shot automatically, on some sort of timer, or that they're shot by a pilot in a jumpseat, who is not flying the plane. But I do not know for sure.
"During those periods, pilots must focus on 'essential operational activities,'" Yanofsky writes. "They can’t read, eat, drink, or talk about anything unrelated to operating the plane. They certainly can’t take photos, yet Quartz found many examples on Instagram of photos seemingly taken from a pilot’s seat while a commercial airplane was landing."
Yanofsky asked a bunch of different airlines about their policies, and most either did not respond or gave noncommittal answers. Only a few agreed that taking photos in the cockpit is definitely against airline and federal guidelines. But from this reporting, it's clear a lot of these photographs violate airline polices and federal law. (What I do not know for sure is whether the FAA would make an exception for photographs that are shot automatically or a timer.)
Yes, this is only one story, but I suspect it will get picked up in many places. And I bet it will spook pilots, who likely will become more wary of social media.
What do you think? Do you think pilots should snap fewer pictures from the flight deck? Would you prefer your pilot not be taking photographs?