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Civil aviation newbie here: how realistic / dangerous would it be
for me to use an autopilot to fly the aircraft while working on a
laptop during the level-flight part of the trip. I'm looking at a
regular weekly commute between Colorado and Tennessee. I would
imagine I'd be in a Cessna 172 or 182 or maybe a Cirrus SR22, flying
alone. The flying time looks to be 6 or 8 hours, and I would like to
make the time productive. I would put the laptop away during ascent
and decent. What are the risks?
-- Scott Reed, May 3, 2015
In the 1960s and 1970s I think that people used to do stuff like this all the time, treating being a pilot of a Bonanza the way that we would treat being the driver of a minivan.
From an FAA point of view this is probably a violation of the regulations that a pilot in clear air is responsible to see and avoid other aircraft.
What about from a practical point of view? Most Cirrus SR22s have traffic warning systems so, assuming the system is functioning properly, you would be warned about any transponder-equipped airplanes (pretty much all planes that fly reasonably high, except some gliders due to their lack of an electrical system).
If you want to use ATC services for warnings about traffic, weather, and general tracking, you'll be heavily distracted by radio communications intended for other aircraft on the same frequency as well as by the need to change frequencies every 10-15 minutes. If there were a system of point-to-point communication between controllers and planes this would work a lot better.
-- Philip Greenspun, October 8, 2015