WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety officials on Wednesday reminded pilots to look out for other planes and make their own aircraft known during flights, saying air collisions can occur if pilots are distracted by cell phones, tablets or other wireless devices.
After four small-plane collisions that caused eight deaths, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued an official "safety alert" advising pilots to maintain fundamental "see and avoid" vigilance by scanning for traffic throughout a flight, using lights and clearly communicating their intentions.
"Accidents have occurred in which pilots operating near one another did not maintain adequate visual lookout," the federal safety agency said.
"The presence of technology has introduced challenges to the see-and-avoid concept. Aviation applications on portable electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, and handheld GPS units, while useful, can lead to more head-down time."
NTSB pointed to four collisions involving Piper or Cessna aircraft that have occurred over the past four years. Three of the mishaps proved fatal.
In the deadliest accident, a pilot and three passengers were killed in 2011 near Talkeetna, Alaska, when their Cessna 180 collided with a Cessna 206 about 900 feet (274 meters) above ground. NTSB said the pilots of the two single-engine aircraft were monitoring different radio frequencies and failed to see each other. The airline-rated pilot of the Cessna 206 was not injured.
Commercial airline pilots increasingly are using tablet computers in the cockpit in place of paper flight plans and navigation charts. But, under Federal Aviation Administration rules, the devices are not allowed for personal communications or activities.
The devices are allowed for general aviation, including small planes, but the pilot is responsible for determining whether a device’s electronics will interfere with flight instruments.
Software makers have produced a host of pilot applications for phones and tablets that offer radar and navigation services, approach charts, terrain awareness and weather graphics.
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)