Perhaps because they are prominently pictured with headphones on, pilots frequently get asked if they can listen to the music while they are flying.
Many websites, forums, and Quora answers quote a widely shared view that because airline regulations don’t prohibit music in the cockpit, commercial airline pilots are listening to music whilst flying.
This is a common misconception. In all my years of professional flying, I am yet to come across any commercial airline that endorses their pilots listening to music in the cockpit!
However, there are some situations where listening to music might even have a benefit. As a result, for private pilots in general aviation, listening to music whilst flying is becoming more and more common. There are now many audio input options and sophisticated set-ups available.
So, why don’t airline pilots listen to music in the cockpit? And can private pilots listen to music safely?
Why commercial airline pilots don’t listen to music whilst flying
There are some pretty major differences between flying commercially, and as a private pilot. Listening to music is one of them!
Do pilots ever break the rules?
Yes some pilots do, using the radio highlighted below. And this is how they do it…
For aircraft that don’t have the ability to play audio through their headsets, or airlines that prohibit pilots listening to music — there is one way that pilots occasionally break the rules. And It’s probably not what you expect!
Once a primary instruments for navigation, non-directional beacons (NDBs) are radio aids pilots can use to locate their positions. Radio beacons broadcast their position, but also their identification names — usually three letters — in morse code so that pilots know they are tuned into the correct signal.
However, some radio stations also use these frequencies. By dialling in the frequencies of radio stations instead of the navigational beacons, it is possible in some locations to listen to radios! This is not often done, however for long flights during major sporting events, pilots will occasionally flick onto a radio station to quickly hear the score!
Do private pilots listen to music?
Yes. As technology has advanced, private pilots have an impressive range of headphones available to them.
These range from wired or wireless, traditional passive, and newer active noise-cancelling headsets, capable of incorporating personal audio alongside aviation radios.
The latest headsets — like the Bose A20 — have inbuilt features to enable pilots to listen to personal music whilst flying, safely. Known as Audio Prioritisation, the pilot’s music is immediately interrupted whenever there is an air traffic control call, or pilot alert, ensuring that the music doesn’t interfere with operating safely.
In many parts of the world, private pilots can fly for hours without encountering other aircraft. In some instances, it has even been argued that listening to music can keep pilots more alert!
So, do commercial airline pilots listen to music whilst they are in the cockpit? The answer is no. While many airline pilots could bring an iPod, or use their own headset capable of listening to music, most airlines prohibit it. It’s frowned upon in the commercial pilot community, as unprofessional, and an unnecessary distraction.
Airlines also take flight safety extremely seriously. Any form of minor incident or report of pilots distracted whilst listening to music is something that could potentially cost them their jobs. Would you risk losing your job over listening to music?
However, times are changing, and maybe in the future airlines will take a different stance. If you’ve ever worked at a commercial airline that allows their pilots to listen to music in the cockpit — I’d love to hear from you!