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Can Pilots Listen to Music?

Many people like listening to music while they work. It helps them concentrate and breaks up the monotony of certain repetitive tasks. Another popular place to listen to music is in the car while driving to liven up life in a traffic jam. With all that in mind, can pilots listen to music?

Yes, pilots are allowed to listen to music according to FAA regulations. However, there are a few rules regarding the volume and type of music pilots are allowed to listen to. Pilots in stressful situations, such as fighter pilots, aren’t allowed to listen to music at all. 

Here is everything you need to know about pilots and music.

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Can Pilots Listen to Music?

Yes, pilots are allowed to listen to music in the cockpit while flying as long as it isn’t too distracting when it comes to receiving radio instructions. In fact, it actively recommends pilots wear headphones while flying to prevent ambient noise from the cockpit from damaging their hearing (as even plane passengers understand, planes can get noisy). 

Many modern headsets on planes allow for dual input, meaning that you can connect one part to an iPod or satellite radio and leave the other channel free for communications. That allows the pilot to listen to music while pausing whenever relevant communication comes through.

Can Pilots Listen to Podcasts?

Yes, pilots can listen to podcasts, radio dramas, and any audio input that they want. FAA regulations don’t specify that pilots can only listen to music in the cockpit, just that they’re allowed to have some sort of audio going while flying.

However, most pilots don’t choose to listen to podcasts unless they’re flying solo for a long flight. The reason is that podcasts require more concentration than music, impeding a pilot’s ability to switch focus to important communications through a radio. 

Radio communication while flying is also fairly frequent, and no pilot wants to be interrupted right when the podcast gets to the juicy part of the true crime story.

Should Pilots Listen to Music?

It turns out that even though pilots can legally listen to music, the answer to if they should do that is very different. In forums sharing their experience, pilots share that they rarely take advantage of this opportunity to listen to music unless flying on long flights and alone. 

There are a few reasons for this. One is that radio communication with other planes and the ground is more frequent than passengers think. Although we think pilots just need to be alert during takeoff and landing, communication is actually continuous between pilots and the ground. Frequent interruptions on the radio, especially when flying IFR (or instrument flight rules), make it annoying to get through a song or album.

Another is that music affects pilots’ concentration. Even when listening to non-distracting music at a reasonable volume, it still affects how a pilot can respond to communication on the radio. Most pilots find it unprofessional and embarrassing to miss out on important communication because they were listening to some sick beats.

Finally, cockpits already have a ton of ambient noise from the engines running. Adding more noise to that via music makes it harder to communicate with a co-pilot or listen to the engine.

Can Commercial Airline Pilots Listen to Music?

Although the FAA itself doesn’t prohibit pilots from listening to music, the reality is very different for pilots flying for commercial airlines. The airlines themselves ban pilots from listening to music or using private electronics while flying (although the radio instruments in the cockpit sometimes pick up on radio frequencies from stations on the ground).

There are a few reasons for this. One is that the stakes are much higher for commercial pilots. They have hundreds of lives depending on their communication, so airlines take pains to avoid any distractions to a pilot’s attention, including music.

Another is that commercial airline pilots have to monitor far more communications channels than private planes. They usually fly very busy routes and need to stay alert at all times to avoid collisions.

Finally, commercial airline pilots also have more communication responsibilities within the plane itself. Most airlines require pilots to fly with a co-pilot, and communicating between the two is harder if one is rocking out. Pilots also have to communicate with passengers and flight attendants. Passengers might get nervous if they hear music wafting from the cockpit!

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Can Military Pilots Listen to Music?

Military pilots and those flying fighter planes usually are not allowed to listen to music at all unless they are flying to a deployment or on a long flight. The stakes are much higher for military pilots because they have to engage in life-or-death battles, so anything that impedes their concentration, including music or podcasts, is banned.

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