Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Tuesday, 3 November 2009

US seeks airline pilot laptop ban

Northwest Airlines plane (file pic)
The law is intended to avoid a repeat of the overshoot on 21 October

A US senator is seeking a law banning computer laptops and other personal electronic devices in airline cockpits to prevent pilots becoming distracted.

The move follows the recent case of a US plane that overshot its destination by 150 miles (240km).

Its two Northwest Airlines pilots told investigators they had been working on crew schedules on their laptops.

US aviation law does not prohibit air crew using laptops and similar devices, except during landing and take-off.

Senator Byron Dorgan, chairman of the US Senate's aviation subcommittee, said he was surprised to learn that current laws do not specifically ban pilots using laptops, DVD or MP3 players and other personal electronic devices, except below 10,000ft (3,048m).

Mr Dorgan told the Associated Press he planned to introduce the proposed ban within days and expected it to be drafted into a larger version of an aviation bill that is to go before the Senate shortly.

"I'm not anticipating any opposition to the measure," he said.

'Hijack concerns'

Changes to the law are being made after the Northwest Airlines jet with more than 140 people on board lost contact for more than an hour before it landed in Minneapolis on 21 October.

The pilots admitted to investigators they had missed repeated calls from air traffic controllers, due to working on a scheduling programme on their personal laptops.

Jets from the National Guard were put on alert to chase the airliner amid fears it could have been hijacked, although they did not take off.

Both pilots have been suspended and have had their licences to fly revoked pending a full inquiry.

"We now understand from this flight, at least, that this can happen and there ought to be a more clear understanding by everyone in the cockpit that there is a national standard that would prohibit [such actions]," Mr Dorgan said.

The new bill intends to make an exception only for those laptops containing navigational tools issued to pilots by some airlines, the senator added.

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