There was a video posted to Reddit of pilots waving back from their commercial jetliners. What followed was a discussion of whether or not this was a violation of the sterile cockpit rule. Given that waving back is non-essential communication, is this a violation of the FAA sterile cockpi rule?

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    $\begingroup$ The vast majority of the cockpits in the video have nothing to do with FAA rules. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 20:56
  • $\begingroup$ That has to be one of the most boring videos I've seen... $\endgroup$
    – user11516
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 21:42
  • $\begingroup$ One can aswell flag every pilot waving at spotters... (lots of pictures on Airliners.net) Sometimes, I'm wondering whether we may end in a world where noone is allowed to move a finger because of safety concerns... I'm not saying this because of OP, but still... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 20:27

1 Answer 1


From rgl.faa.gov

Sec. 121.542

Flight crewmember duties.

(a) [I omitted this, it's about noncritical (company) procedures]

(b) No flight crewmember may engage in, nor may any pilot in command permit, any activity during a critical phase of flight which could distract any flight crewmember from the performance of his or her duties or which could interfere in any way with the proper conduct of those duties [...] such as [...] engaging in nonessential conversations within the cockpit [...]

(c) For the purposes of this section, critical phases of flight includes all ground operations involving taxi, takeoff and landing, and all other flight operations conducted below 10,000 feet, except cruise flight.

One could argue that waving could distract the pilot taxiing, so according to the letter of the law, yes, you would violate the rule.

However, I think in the spirit of the rule it's fine, since it just means that the pilot not taxiing is paying attention to the surroundings as well. Reading between the lines, it basically says

(a) During critical phases of flight, all crew should focus on flying, not selling cooked cardboard

(b) Also, don't read the paper with a croissant while asking help with a crossword during said phases.

(c) Critical phases of flight are when you're likely to read the bumper sticker on another jet.

I don't think a quick wave is quite as severe a violation as e.g. reading the paper (or, as the FAA calls it, reading publications not related to the proper conduct of the flight) during take-off. Compare it with a bus driver waving to a fellow driver or one reading the paper while driving. But then, if you do park your plane in a ditch while trying to wave to your mom, don't be surprised to be held fully liable.

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    $\begingroup$ Violation of cockpit sterile rule : Me as a passenger in a 767 cockpit on final at RUN (TNR-RUN-SIN), in 1998, inside thunderstorm clouds and the captain smiling to me while asking "it's shaking hard, isn't it ?", and me answering "yeah, that's great ! I'm loving it !". Not a violation : Me as passenger in a 767 cockpit (TNR-MBA-CDG) around 03:00AM somewhere above Lybia at 37000ft, and me and the captain discussing astonomy, particularly about a very bright star (Venus) to kill the time. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 13, 2015 at 20:22

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