When ‘selfies’ extend to plane cockpits, pilots could land themselves in trouble

Pilots have the privilege of a birds-eye view, but should they resist the temptation to snap from the cockpit? Frans Zwart/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Last week, Quartz published an article showcasing photographs pilots have taken from the cockpit of aircraft to post on Instagram. As explained in the story, by taking these photos – many of which appear to have been snapped during flight, take-off, or landing – pilots are violating the rules of the air. This is certainly the case in the United States and the European Union, for example, but what about elsewhere?

United States regulations

The longstanding “sterile cockpit” rule requires pilots to refrain from non-essential activities during critical stages of flight, including while the aircraft is involved in taxi, take-off and landing (and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet, except cruise flight). “Non-essential activities” include eating and engaging in conversation and reading publications not related to the operation of the aircraft. It certainly covers cockpit selfies during landing. Alarmingly, as reported in Quartz, one #iger – or for those of us unfamiliar with the Instagram hashtag “Instagrammer” – posted:

“[a]bout to land this plane but first, #lmtas” (that is, first, let me take a selfie).

Earlier this year, the United States Federal Aviation Administration further issued new regulations barring airline pilots from using electronic devices, including laptops and mobile phones while on duty in the cockpit unless the purpose of using such devices is directly related to the operation of the aircraft or emergency, safety-related or employment related communications. These rules further restrict the ability for pilots to use these devices, placing a complete ban on personal use of such devices while piloting a commercial aircraft. Again, this restriction certainly covers taking photos – even at cruising altitude.

EU regulations

There are similar regulations in the EU. The European Aviation Safety Agency’s Acceptable Means of Compliance and Guidance Material sets out that due to the higher risk of interference and potential for distracting crew from their duties, portable electronic devices should not be used in the flight compartment, other than to assist the flight crew in their duties in certain circumstances.

The rules applying to pilots in Australia, however, are somewhat different.

Depending on the circumstances, it’s generally ok for crew members to take photos inside an aircraft cockpit. Kent Wien/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Australian regulations

Under Australian law, a common law duty of care (an obligation owed to any person whom it is reasonably foreseeable would be injured by the lack of care of that person) is owed by the pilot in command of an aircraft to persons including passengers and fellow crew members.

There are also statutory duties owed by the crew members of an aircraft under legislation which includes the Civil Aviation Act and regulations made under that Act.

Section 20A of the Civil Aviation Act provides that:

“[a] person must not operate an aircraft being reckless as to whether the manner of operation could endanger’ either the life of another person or the person or property of another person.”

Under the Civil Aviation Regulations, a pilot in command of an aircraft is responsible for the operation and safety of the aircraft during flight time, the safety of people carried on the aircraft, and the conduct and safety of members of the crew on the aircraft.

Under the same regulations, the pilot in command must ensure that one pilot “is at the controls of an aircraft from the time at which the engine or engines is or are started prior to a flight until the engine or engines is or are stopped at the termination of a flight”.

If two or more pilots are required to be on board an aircraft, the pilot in command must ensure that two pilots remain at the controls at all times when the aircraft is taking off, landing and during turbulent flight conditions.

There appear to be no Australian laws or regulations which specifically prevent the taking of photographs by crew members of an aircraft. It is clear that crew members can take photographs – of each other and the view outside the aircraft. It is also clear, however, at common law and under statute that, depending on the operation of the aircraft and the circumstances – and it all comes down to circumstance – the taking of such photographs may well be prohibited.

It may also be an #offence.

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