Two Dems introduce bill to ban pilots from using laptops

Last week's news that two pilots overshot their destination by 150 miles because they were distracted by their laptops has prompted two Senate Democrats to introduce a bill to prevent a repeat scenario.

The proposal, debuted Thursday by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), would prohibit crew members from using personal electronic devices while they were operating their planes, except in the case of an emergency or to communicate with crew members.

“Passengers should not have to worry about whether the pilots are flying the plane or checking their laptops,” said Klobuchar, who is from the state the plane in question was supposed to land.  “In their jobs, there is nothing more important than the safety of airline passengers -- this legislation will allow the FAA to make sure distractions are removed from the cockpit and increase the safety of our air carriers.”

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"Most major air carriers have already recognized this problem and have rules prohibiting it, but this legislation gives the FAA the ability to enforce those rules with penalties," Dorgan added.

The two Democrats' effort arrives days after lawmakers and passengers alike were stunned to learn that pilots on a Northwest Airlines plane missed 91 radio calls (and the Minneapolis airport's runway) because they were "distracted by working on their computers," the senators explained. The incident, which has since become the subject of innumerable late night jokes, concerned flight safety officials, who feared the distraction in any other circumstance could have jeopardized passengers' safety.

Current law only bans the use of laptops during takeoff and landing, but no punishments exist at the federal level for pilots who use them -- or are distracted by them -- during flight. Both Dorgan and Klobuchar's efforts, however, seek to combat that once and for all.

"Most major air carriers have already recognized this problem and have rules prohibiting it, but this legislation gives the FAA the ability to enforce those rules with penalties,” Dorgan said.

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