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Qantas Blames Wireless For Aircraft Incidents

CmdrTaco posted about 6 years ago | from the lotta-finger-pointing dept.

Transportation 773

musther writes "An Australian airline Qantas Airbus A330-300, suffered 'a sudden change of altitude' on Tuesday. "The mid-air incident resulted in injuries to 74 people, with 51 of them treated by three hospitals in Perth for fractures, lacerations and suspected spinal injuries when the flight bound from Singapore to Perth had a dramatic drop in altitude that hurled passengers around the cabin." Now it seems Qantas is seeking to blame interference from passenger electronics, and it's not the first time; 'In July, a passenger clicking on a wireless mouse mid-flight was blamed for causing a Qantas jet to be thrown off course.' Is there any precedent for wireless electronics interfering with aircraft systems? Interfering with navigation instruments is one thing, but causing changes in the 'elevator control system' — I would be quite worried if I thought the aircraft could be flown with a bluetooth mouse."

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Moral of the story? (1, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | about 6 years ago | (#25314045)

Fly Boeing instead of Airbus.

If Airbus is that susceptible to electronic interference, then I'd rather not fly in their planes. The last thing I need is to plunge into the Atlantic because some disgruntled-fellow-gone-terrorist on the ground is jamming the flight controls with a generator and a pringles can.

Re:Moral of the story? (5, Insightful)

fastest fascist (1086001) | about 6 years ago | (#25314189)

I really doubt the cause was really EMI from any passenger's gadgets. I mean, airport security confiscates liquids for fear someone might manage to cook up composite explosives by stirring fluids together for a few hours, all while keeping the concoction cooled and not being noticed. They're that paranoid, and I'm supposed to believe they let people on board with gear that can interfere with the steering of the plane? Please.

Re:Moral of the story? (5, Insightful)

neongenesis (549334) | about 6 years ago | (#25314525)

You are assuming that airport security is competent and doing something related to real security rather than performing meaningless security theater to calm the crowds.

Re:Moral of the story? (1, Informative)

electrictroy (912290) | about 6 years ago | (#25314247)

Agreed.

Also it's ridiculous to think an infrared-colored mouse could cause interference. Being optical, there's no way it could penetrate and interfere with the wiring behind a WALL on an airplane. Light does not penetrate solid objects!

The folks at Airbus are just dodging blame like kid trying to pretend he didn't spill the milk. "The dog did it." "Um, er, the mouse did."

Re:Moral of the story? (5, Insightful)

pipatron (966506) | about 6 years ago | (#25314373)

The folks at Airbus are just dodging blame

Airbus said nothing, it's the airline who is trying to dodge blame here.

I seriously doubt that (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 6 years ago | (#25314493)

Quant is not going to want to lose customers in this economic environment. By making this statement, they are indicating that they will crack down on those with electronics. For quant to say this, it would have required Airbus to say it.

Re:Moral of the story? (3, Insightful)

norminator (784674) | about 6 years ago | (#25314449)

Being a good slashdotter, I did not read TFA, but I did read TFS, and it mentioned a wireless mouse, not just an optical mouse. Not that I necessarily believe that any variety of wireless mouse or cell phone or WiFi or Bluetooth or any other consumer-level wireless tech should really be capable of interfering with an airplane, but if it were possible, it would be wireless tech, not optical mouse tech, that would do it.

Also, why are there two links in TFS, when the 2 are exactly the same link?

Re:Moral of the story? (5, Informative)

poetmatt (793785) | about 6 years ago | (#25314505)

In the US, airplane components are tested (privately with confidential results of course) to ensure that nothing "wireless" will interfere with the devices. Needless to say, nothing wireless does interfere with the devices, and neither do things such as voltage issues or sudden electric surges. Remember, they protect airplanes from lighting strikes on the outside best they can and inside from sudden surges on their own, as well.

If Qantas manages to have a plane interfered with via either RF or Bluetooth, then they obviously need to come up with a better excuse next time. Maybe terrorism!

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

bws111 (1216812) | about 6 years ago | (#25314653)

Not true. They test to make sure approved devices don't interfere, that is why they are approved. Other devices (including everything with a transmitter) are banned, because they might interfere.

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

tsa (15680) | about 6 years ago | (#25314741)

I think with optical they mean there is no ball but a red LED or LASER in the mouse. Aren't all mice optical nowadays? They can be optical AND wireless.

Re:Moral of the story? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314403)

What is interesting is that Airbus DOES push MS everywhere. FAA has some pretty high specs and it is what keeps Airbus from using it for embedded controls. As it is, Airbus has pushed for all their partners to use MS when FAA does not prevent it. The funny thing is, that MANY Boeing engineers KNOW the MS product and fight it all the time. There are managers who push it, but most if not nearly all Boeing engineers fight back. I take Boeing for that reason.

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

Waste55 (1003084) | about 6 years ago | (#25314443)

They both use the same company's avionics...

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

salimma (115327) | about 6 years ago | (#25314459)

One wonders whether customers could actually have an ally in the plane manufacturers in this case (and similar ones). Surely Airbus would be quite interested in defending the safety of their planes, and so would be on the record saying their planes are safe from EM interference from customer electronics?

If Qantas is only laying the blame on Airbus, rather than coming up with the same excuse for their Boeing planes too, then this is ground for a libel suit. Airbus stands to lose a lot of customers if this misperception takes hold, more than they would by losing Qantas as a customer.

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

SupplyMission (1005737) | about 6 years ago | (#25314621)

How much more likely is it that the "sudden change of altitude" was due to poor maintenance or human error by the pilots? Instead, Qantas blames it on passengers using wireless devices -- a perfectly ridiculous claim that is impossible to verify. Furthermore, these days MP3 players and laptops are used on practically every single passenger flight, and yet we don't get incidents like this every day.

Or is it possible that the malfunction was caused by a natural radiation source? We know that the intensity of magnetic and electric fields due to natural sources (e.g. thunderstorms or magnetosphere [wikipedia.org] activity) can far exceed the signal strength of a Bluetooth radio, Wifi device, or cell phone. The natural signals are broad-band, similar to a spark gap transmitter [wikipedia.org] , capable of inducing electric currents in almost any conductor. In fact, it is possible to measure thunderstorm activity half a world away [wikipedia.org] using equipment any electrical engineer could build in his or her garage. If airplanes really were that sensitive to random bursts electromagnetic radiation, then we'd have incidents like this all the time. But we don't.

And yet Qantas blames the incident on passengers, while keeping a straight face. Are we supposed to believe that?

It is much more plausible the aircraft has experienced "irregularities" in the elevator control system before this incident, and Qantas placing the blame on passengers is nothing more than an effort to avoid responsibility. I'm sure an independent review of the maintenance history of the aircraft would turn up some interesting items.

Re:Moral of the story? (1)

iminplaya (723125) | about 6 years ago | (#25314747)

Fly Boeing instead of Airbus.

Absolutely. Airbus has a growing history of computer glitches already. But even the triple 7 has at least one known incident [aviation-safety.net]

WTF? (4, Insightful)

KGIII (973947) | about 6 years ago | (#25314063)

If an airplane can have its control mechanisms interfered with by a simple wireless device then what the hell are they thinking?

Shield that crap.

If it is that delicate then don't use it - there are surely alternatives and surely my life should not depend on something so likely trivial.

It could be said that, "Yeah, they cause problems and in the interest of safety we're going to ban them." Bullshit. That treats the symptom and is not a cure.

Re:WTF? (4, Informative)

samkass (174571) | about 6 years ago | (#25314245)

It's important to note that in a modern aircraft, there is a closed loop between the navigation system and the control system. Almost the entire flight is flown by the autopilot based on GPS and other navigational aids. While most planes still have backup pressure-based altitude instruments, GPS is even used for altitude calculation.

So I suspect it's not that the wireless is interfering with the fly-by-wire control mechanism, but making the navigation system think that the altitude is significantly off. Assuming that is, in fact, the cause.

(I can confirm that on small aircraft wireless devices that produce a lot of interference can muck with electronic instruments, but I hadn't heard about it seriously affecting a large aircraft's systems before.)

Re:WTF? (5, Insightful)

digitalunity (19107) | about 6 years ago | (#25314351)

Even if you're right(I don't know shit about this stuff), the issue then becomes the software.

If the plane descended so abruptly that it caused 70 injuries, then the software is to blame for not limiting ascent and descent in a more controlled manner.

When a human pilot sees they're at 30k feet and wants to be at 12k feet, they do not plunge the plane into a nose dive.

Re:WTF? (2, Informative)

samkass (174571) | about 6 years ago | (#25314475)

True, but as usual it's not a simple decision. If the computer detects that the plane is in a situation in which it could compromise structural integrity or otherwise endanger the safety of the flight, a little time in zero G and a few bruised knees would be pretty reasonable.

For example, the current generation of both Boeing and Airbus aircraft will not, I believe, allow the pilot to stall the aircraft (go so slow as to cause the wings to not have lift and the plane start to fly like bricks do). If the aircraft detected a sudden drop in airspeed that persisted for too long to be an internal glitch, I believe the aircraft will dive and increase thrust to avoid the stall. That may even be what happened here. Similarly, most modern aircraft I believe won't let you go above the speed at which the plane would break apart.

Whether the human is in or out of the loop in various actions is a tough question. In general, these features appear to be significantly increasing aircraft safety.

Re:WTF? (5, Insightful)

Zsub (1365549) | about 6 years ago | (#25314611)

I don't get how some people fail to see that a BIG plane cannot go from normal flight to a nose-dive as fast as would be required to injure over 70 people. Turbulence makes planes fall down like that. Not nose-dives. My source on this is a 747 pilot btw, I'd guess he'd know a thing or two...

Re:WTF? (3, Insightful)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | about 6 years ago | (#25314743)

A 747 certainly can push over fast enough to get negative gees in the cabin. It has nothing to do with a nose-dive and everything to do with how fast the plane's attitude changes. All you'd have to do is go negative enough to lift people in the air, then back to positive and they'll fall down.

Re:WTF? (2, Interesting)

MightyYar (622222) | about 6 years ago | (#25314639)

For example, the current generation of both Boeing and Airbus aircraft will not, I believe, allow the pilot to stall the aircraft

I think that the airbus planes will take control from the pilot. I remember a crash at an airshow a few years back during a touch-and-go caused by the software locking the pilot out and flying into the trees.

However, IIRC, Boeing planes do not take control. Instead, they do things like shake the control yoke when in a potential stall situation.

Re:WTF? (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | about 6 years ago | (#25314637)

If the GPS is significantly at fault for altitude control, it begs the question, why is GPS being used for that in the first place? It used to be that altitude was sensed as a simple function of pressure, and that worked damn well for a century. GPS is great for x and y, but why use it for z, especially in autopilot scenarios, if it's less reliable than its predecessor?

Re:WTF? (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | about 6 years ago | (#25314719)

I have a GPS unit in my car. I also have a cell phone. When I make a call, my GPS doesn't all of a sudden think i'm somewhere else. I have also used wireless mouses in close proximity to GPS without incident.

I think this is a cop out on the airline's part.

Re:WTF? (1)

MightyYar (622222) | about 6 years ago | (#25314733)

Pure speculation, but what if it tripped up the aircraft's collision avoidance system? That would cause evasive action. The collision avoidance system is based on transponders. The frequency of these transponders is around 0.9-1.1GHz, so it's not completely absurd that consumer electronics would interfere.

Re:WTF? (1)

Mitsoid (837831) | about 6 years ago | (#25314763)

Agreed. Airplanes aren't perfect... While it's unlikely to cause an issue, we here at slashdot have seen Electronic Devices malfunctioning [slashdot.org] . Or it could be as simple as a break in the shielding for the wires.

Cell Phones at miles up in the air put out near their maximum power trying to keep a connection with towers on the ground. Max Power = Max EMI that device can put out. As I said, unlikely, but possible, provided one of the two components (the cabling or the phone) was not performing to expectations.

Re:WTF? (3, Informative)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | about 6 years ago | (#25314319)

Unfortunately, it is always a tradeof.
Modern airplanes have a huge length (and mass) of wires running trough it and perfect shielding (besides the cost) would add far too much weight. The solution used is to shield the calculators and use robust communication protocols such as ARINC A429 between them. Of course, even with no weight constraints, they still can't shield some captors for obvious reasons and usualy rely on redundancy to offset the risks caused by a polluted measurement.

Re:WTF? (1)

KGIII (973947) | about 6 years ago | (#25314607)

My suggestion would be to find an alternative. We're pretty creative as a species. If a wireless mouse can bring down an airplane the flaw is not in the mouse in my opinion.

Maybe logic behind the autopilot systems?

AP: I'm about to do something stupid - Yes/No?
Pilot: NO!!! I'm qualified and trained for this.

If, of course, shielding is not an option.

Re:WTF? (1)

redscare2k4 (1178243) | about 6 years ago | (#25314347)

That crap is already shielded. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft [wikipedia.org]

Re:WTF? (1)

KGIII (973947) | about 6 years ago | (#25314533)

I am kind of glad that they have not allowed cell phone talking on flights. I don't mind texts so long as they're set to vibrate but I don't want to sit and listen to a bunch of people chatting on their phone when I'm flying.

Re:WTF? (1)

jonaskoelker (922170) | about 6 years ago | (#25314649)

Qantas never crashed.

Dear editors... (4, Insightful)

aug24 (38229) | about 6 years ago | (#25314065)

...both links go to the same page. What is your problem with actually doing some basic checking, like following the links?

mee (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314067)

first !!!

Shhh... Don't tell the terrorists (3, Funny)

nedlohs (1335013) | about 6 years ago | (#25314077)

Why bring a bomb or a bottle of water when you can just bring a couple of bags full of wireless mice...

Re:Shhh... Don't tell the terrorists (5, Funny)

MPAB (1074440) | about 6 years ago | (#25314289)

Coming this summer: Mice on a Plane!

Re:Shhh... Don't tell the terrorists (2, Informative)

megamerican (1073936) | about 6 years ago | (#25314603)

That liquid bomb plot was complete BS.

"None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time," says Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray [craigmurray.org.uk]

None of the alleged terrorists were convicted of trying to blow up an airplane. It is kind of hard to blow up a trans-atlantic flight when you don't have a passport.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/7605583.stm [bbc.co.uk]

Channel Reuse & Interference (4, Informative)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 6 years ago | (#25314083)

Is there any precedent for wireless electronics interfering with aircraft systems? Interfering with navigation instruments is one thing, but causing changes in the 'elevator control system' -- I would be quite worried if I thought the aircraft could be flown with a bluetooth mouse.

Well, Wikipedia has a great section [wikipedia.org] on this.

Following from reading that, I would need to see whether Quantas planes have a lack of shielding somewhere that would make this a vulnerability. In the defense of so many airlines and the FAA, I will state that I would rather read a book than work on a laptop if it means reducing a very low risk. That risk being that I am operating in a range that interferes with a device that is crucial to flight and also improperly shielded.

Re:Channel Reuse & Interference (5, Insightful)

pla (258480) | about 6 years ago | (#25314297)

In the defense of so many airlines and the FAA, I will state that I would rather read a book than work on a laptop if it means reducing a very low risk.

No. This has nothing to do with "I want to use my laptop/DS/phone, so make me happy as the paying customer", and everything to do with "if an unauthorized wireless mouse can bring down a plane, we need the entire fleet of such badly defective planes grounded and fixed yesterday".

Seriously. Any system that can't deal with weak RF interference needs to hit the scrapheap. In any other industry, we'd see the customers suing - Imagine if Ford said using a bluetooth headset in their vehicles violates your warranty... They'd go bankrupt overnight. Only the fact that the aviation industry has slowly boiled the frog, making us expect horrible customer service at unpredictable (but high) prices, allows any of the BS we've put up with for the past 20 years (and the shout-and-taze squads aside, the airlines had problems long before 9/11).

Not the right reason to worry. (3, Funny)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | about 6 years ago | (#25314097)

"I would be quite worried if I thought the aircraft could be flown with a bluetooth mouse."
Flown? No. Crashed? Maybe.

Fixed that for you.

well, flown right to the ground :) (1)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 6 years ago | (#25314509)

Remember, it is the landing that kills you, not flying.

Re:well, flown right to the ground :) (1)

supernova_hq (1014429) | about 6 years ago | (#25314737)

That depends on whether the plane doesn't explode before it hits the ground!

Cool... Or is it? (2, Interesting)

d3ac0n (715594) | about 6 years ago | (#25314109)

I'm not sure if I should be impressed that our aircraft are so advanced that they can be flown with commodity consumer interface tools, or frightened silly.

Either way, I thought that all modern aircraft were "hardened" against interference from these devices, and that the UL listing on these devices specified that they cannot create interference? Methinks someone is trying to CYA by passing the buck to a mouse.

Re:Cool... Or is it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314779)

I'm not sure if I should be impressed that our aircraft are so advanced that they can be flown with commodity consumer interface tools, or frightened silly.

Either way, I thought that all modern aircraft were "hardened" against interference from these devices, and that the UL listing on these devices specified that they cannot create interference? Methinks someone is trying to CYA by passing the buck to a mouse.

With regards to the "cannot create interference" blurb. That statement does not mean the device "can not" create interference. It means the device must accept interference from other devices, and must not be used if it itself may create interference with other licensed devices. It's standard part 15 for electronic devices.

Wireless? (2, Insightful)

Genjurosan (601032) | about 6 years ago | (#25314117)

The idea that a standard wireless device can cause a multi-million dollar jet for a loop says a whole lot about the design of these systems on-board. Why is it that my laptop doesn't go flying off my desk when I shift-right click is beyond me.

In all honesty, can someone please explain how this could even remotely be true? Aren't these planes flying around at all altitudes with a multitude of radio wave radiation from an untold number of sources, both human and naturally occurring?

Re:Wireless? (4, Insightful)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#25314227)

In all honesty, can someone please explain how this could even remotely be true? Aren't these planes flying around at all altitudes with a multitude of radio wave radiation from an untold number of sources, both human and naturally occurring?

Design flaw. Not saying that's how it is, but it doesn't seem impossible that this plane was poorly designed.

A more likely possibility: the plane failed randomly, and scapegoating something was a more attractive alternative than saying "we have no idea why our plane failed, it could be anything really, maybe they all will fall."

Re:Wireless? (2, Insightful)

Xest (935314) | about 6 years ago | (#25314433)

More to the point why don't other aircraft interfere with each other either on the ground or in the air when they often fly/taxi fairly close to each other?

If a wireless mouse just happens to be on the same frequency as a plane what hope is there when other planes are almost certainly bound to be on the same frequency as each other for internal electronic?

The article sounds like FUD, I simply cannot believe modern aircraft are that prone to interference else I believe we'd have seen far far more incidents than this.

are they fly by wire?? (2, Insightful)

rurena (1290568) | about 6 years ago | (#25314139)

These planes are usually hydraulic, i don't see how electronic transmissions effect fluid movement. The transmissions are also very localized so the person would have to be righ on the pump to make a difference. If they are fly by wire i doubt some mouse or wifi will interfere with the signal that is being transmitted via a cable.

Re:are they fly by wire?? (2, Informative)

snspdaarf (1314399) | about 6 years ago | (#25314327)

Control surfaces may be moved by hydraulics, but instead of lining the plane with pipes and hoses to connect to the pump, they put the pump right at the actuator, and control the pump electrically.

Re:are they fly by wire?? (1)

mrdoogee (1179081) | about 6 years ago | (#25314757)

Not sure what model this Airbus is, but most models since the A-320 came out are fly-by-wire. Many of the control surfaces are controlled by electric motors or at the very least a hydraulic compressor nearby the moving parts that is controlled electronically rather than a long hydraulic line tied to the cockpit.

The deadly crash of a Concorde... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314153)

...was blamed on a passenger who punched the monkey.

Pilot error? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314159)

Did anyone RTFA? First the plane went up 300 feet, then nosedived. Have they considered that the pilot noticed the 300 foot change and overreacted? He may have pushed the stick just a little too quickly.

Or maybe he was texting just before the incident.

Re:Pilot error? (1)

Genjurosan (601032) | about 6 years ago | (#25314303)

Usually the computer systems do not allow for such drastic movements by the pilot. Turn and climb/decent rates usually have limits that require an override from a pilot.

IANAPilot, so I'm speculating.

Re:Pilot error? (1)

pipatron (966506) | about 6 years ago | (#25314465)

Funny how you say you are "speculating" but then use the word "usually". Maybe you meant to say "probably"?

Re:Pilot error? (1)

elronxenu (117773) | about 6 years ago | (#25314795)

But apparently if the computer itself decides to make such drastic flight alterations that's okay?

IANAPilot too.

Re:Pilot error? (1)

dfm3 (830843) | about 6 years ago | (#25314573)

IANAP (I am not a pilot), but I've been around planes all my life and have limited experience. A 300 foot climb followed by a sharp dive? That sounds more like a stall. Perhaps the aircraft had a problem with a faulty airspeed indicator and slowed down?
 
My understanding is that a loss of speed would cause the nose of the plane to rise (if there are any pilots around, I raise the question: how else could you account for a sudden 300 foot climb?), further causing a reduction in speed coupled with a rapid increase in lift. Then, past a critical point, the aircraft slows until drag overcomes lift, and the nose drops sharply.

modern aircraft are supposed to have multiple systems designed to warn pilots when a stall is likely to occur. I would speculate that wireless devices are more likely to interfere with such warning/prevention systems rather than the actual controls.

probably not a single mouse... (1)

deepgrey (1246108) | about 6 years ago | (#25314163)

As I understand it, you can get some pretty powerful standing waves inside an aircraft if enough people use wireless devices for an extended time period. I doubt a single mouse could cause problems, but say 30 of them for 2 hours - you might have some issues.

Mythbusters (3, Interesting)

DaMattster (977781) | about 6 years ago | (#25314173)

I would say this claim by Qantas is highly suspect. The mythbusters did a special to debunk the myth of wireless device interference. Ostensibly, Airbus uses some form of protection for their avionics. If not, as others are sure to say, fly Boeing! A wireless mouse uses a very, very low transmission power. This is not to say that I am in favor of cell phones on planes. If you are going to be crammed into a hollow tube, the last thing you want to hear is someone yaking on their cell phone while sitting in a seat with a cushion so thin that you are really sitting on the seat frame.

Re:Mythbusters (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314511)

The reason you can't use a cell phone on a plane is everything to do with safety and the mobile networks. It has nothing to do with interfering with the avionics or passenger comfort. If you're yapping away on your phone, you may miss important instructions from the flight crew. Also, at cruising altitude, you have line of sight access to probably several hundred cell phone towers, which would overhwelm the mobile systems.

Proof? (4, Interesting)

I.M.O.G. (811163) | about 6 years ago | (#25314179)

Until they backup their accusations, its just an attempt to divert responsibility instead of saying "Oops, we messed up".

If it is a fact that a common wireless communication device can cause this sort of issue - why do they not have policies and procedures in place to prevent it? I'd say all blame still lands squarely on their shoulder - if some tool with a bluetooth headset can bring the plane I'm riding on down, you better believe I'm placing my faith in the airline that they take necessary measures to ensure that isn't possible.

Seems a lot more likely they slipped on their maintenance schedule however and a component in the plane failed, simplest answer is often the correct one.

Re:Proof? (1)

japhering (564929) | about 6 years ago | (#25314341)

Or more likely the flight crew was either a) sleeping while the autopilot was engaged or b) working on joining the mile high club while in the cockpit.

Other than a few instruments that are affected by older generation analog cell phones, there is no evidence that any consumer grade electronics interfere with any airplane control system.

Quantas is simply taking the position that they are the experts, not the fly public and thus the flying public will take Quanta's word as authoritative.

Re:Proof? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314483)

Indeed, Occam's Razor would do well to be heeded in this case, considering too, that as far as I know, the signal range for a bluetooth device is around 90 feet at absolute best (far less in actuality) and if they have the least bit of shielding around any of their electrical components, considering that such a "wireless device" that they're blaming couldn't be more than a bluetooth headset or wireless mouse, I highly doubt that such a simple, low-power signal could cause such a drastic interference with the plane's system.

As always, a large corporation throwing out some bullshit excuse to cover their ass. I'm willing to bet that if we ever hear the end of this and it's not covered up and forgotten about, that they'll find some computer or electronics "expert" to say that yes, that was most likely the problem, and they'll just pay him out the ass for it too.

That's sad... (1)

otomoton (911331) | about 6 years ago | (#25314183)

They just want to blame wireless devices instead of possibly poor maintenance or crew abilities. The signal range of a wireless mouse is so weak it would likely be blocked by the body of the plane and or the door to the cockpit. They are probably much more likely to be thrown off course by errant ham radio operators or satellite broadcasts than by simple low frequency wireless devices.

If this was really a risk... (1)

merreborn (853723) | about 6 years ago | (#25314195)

If this was really a risk, shouldn't we be seeing wireless-device-based terrorist attacks?

I mean, if a wireless mouse can bring down a plane, they're probably more of a risk than bottled water, right?

Unlikely (5, Interesting)

Chairboy (88841) | about 6 years ago | (#25314229)

The FAA has an advisory on PEDs (personal electronics devices) called AC 91.21.1b where they suggest that carriers set their own standards as to what PEDs are allowed and which are not. This applies to US planes only, but I mention it as a point of comparison.

Whenever you read incidents of PEDs interfering with aircraft, it's important to note that they're pretty much all anecdotal. There's a story from 15 years ago where a pilot claimed that a laptop being turned on and off would toggle the autopilot disconnect, for instance, but when the airline purchased that exact laptop from the passenger and tried reproducing it on the same route at the same location and altitude, they were unable.

Modern avionics are not very susceptible to interference like this. Qantas may have chosen this explanation at this point for the same reason that a software developer might claim 'alpha bit decay' (or cosmic rays) was responsible for an unreproducible software crash. No confirmation is guaranteed, and a negative result during a test doesn't prove that the theory is wrong.

For my background, I've developed software, built programmable electronics, and installed avionics in aircraft. I don't claim to be an expert, but I've got a 'Bravo Sierra' alarm that's going off when I read this story.

Insight isn't just a cable company. (1)

Ostracus (1354233) | about 6 years ago | (#25314239)

" I would be quite worried if I thought the aircraft could be flown with a bluetooth mouse.""

I'd be more worried that a forum with the moniker "News for nerds" didn't understand technical subjects.

This is absurd (1)

arthurp (1250620) | about 6 years ago | (#25314277)

As far as I know all avionics are required to be shielded pretty heavily. It seems like the absolutely worst case should be that the radio gets slightly more crackly. And that wouldn't make a plane loose altitude.
This seems to me to be an excuse by the airline. There is probably some issue with the Airbus planes and they don't want to have to officially admit that. Hopefully they are working on fixing it, but they should really just some out and say it instead of trying to blame a passenger.
Some airlines are starting to put Wifi hotspots and cellphone nano-cells on planes. That is the future in my book, not totally banning all wireless on planes. And that is what will happen if airlines start blaming wireless for problems.

Re:This is absurd (1)

aadvancedGIR (959466) | about 6 years ago | (#25314641)

Moreover, they put cellphone nano-cells in the planes not to protect the plane but the cellphone operators: a cellphone in a plane has a very good line of sight communication path to potentially several towers using the same frequency (something that is normaly impossible to a ground-level phone) and moves faster than the protocol allows, causing an out of range doppler effect and propagation delay correction (an can switch towers faster than the network can handle). At least it's the case for GSM, don't know for sure for CDMA, but it's likely too.

Far-fetched (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314291)

The claim by Quantas is really really hard to believe, for various reasons:
* Airlines request portable electronics to be turned off and stowed during takeoff as they can be thrown around and hurt people, and also since airlines want people to be alert during takeoffs and landings.
* The electronics messing with the aircraft communications is believable, but actually interfering with systems controlled by wired networks is far fetched.
* The incident sounds much more like turbulence/airpockets in the atmosphere, which is known to cause aircraft suddenly losing altitude and people to get thrown around with the on rare instances.

This just in.... (3, Funny)

Willis13 (1357783) | about 6 years ago | (#25314315)

"Terrorist hijacks Airbus with a laptop, MS Flight Simulator and a bluetooth mouse"

Re:This just in.... (1)

TTURabble (1164837) | about 6 years ago | (#25314679)

Bullshit, real terrorists use x-plane.

Completely false (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314325)

Having worked with a company that entirely focuses on jamming and interference signals between air and ground I can tell you that all claims by airlines that electronic devices can interfere with the plane are simply scare tactics to get you to pay attention to the safety demonstration and to hear the in flight announcements.

Explain, please (1)

debrain (29228) | about 6 years ago | (#25314353)

I can see how electronics can interfere with precision radio instrument landing systems (ILS). However ... could someone explain how a passenger clicking a mouse could -in any way- otherwise affect the flight of an airplane?

Thanks.

I *hate* this discussion (4, Interesting)

RMH101 (636144) | about 6 years ago | (#25314359)

It's the same one as the "I must be allowed to have my cell phone on in the hospital" argument. Put simply, in safety-critical situations, particularly highly-regulated ones, the default answer is "no". If you can't actively prove that it's safe, you don't do it. Saying "there's no way that..." doesn't cut it. Sure, it may be unlikely, but that doesn't mean there isn't some infinitesimal risk, and an individual with a cell phone or wireless device doesn't get to make the call - the airline, the pilot, and the civil aviation authority do.

Personally, I used to support PC-based ECG capture devices. I used to really like taking people who claimed their phone had no effect on medical devices, and taking them to stand in front of an ECG monitoring screen and *showing* them the effect on the traces that it had.

Re:I *hate* this discussion (0, Flamebait)

japhering (564929) | about 6 years ago | (#25314583)

Personally, I used to support PC-based ECG capture devices. I used to really like taking people who claimed their phone had no effect on medical devices, and taking them to stand in front of an ECG monitoring screen and *showing* them the effect on the traces that it had.

Which is a pretty damn crappy ECG platform. Hell, I can cause changes just by introduction of static electricity to a pc. First generation pulsar digital watches set off all sorts of alarms in hospitals.. guess what both the pulsar and the next generation of devices were significantly more shielded.

Each generation of airline electronics have become significantly more hardened and everytime there is even a suspected problem the rules tighten. While the airframes might be 20-30, even 80 years old (Southwest is not planning on retiring any of its 737s until age 80) the electronics get replace on average every 10 years.

The Quantas incident is nothing more than pilot error or incompetence

That's crap (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314387)

It's just crap. They're using the wireless boogeyman to scare everyone when it's their own fault. There have been wireless devices and electronics in use for a long time, and there's as much a chance of that interfering as listening to a radio will mess up a plane's instruments and gauges. What a crock.

Well... (2, Funny)

r33per (585447) | about 6 years ago | (#25314389)

Everyone knows that you shouldn't use Microsoft Flight Simulator X in a live environment.

Faraday cage (1)

spikenerd (642677) | about 6 years ago | (#25314405)

Why can't they just put a Faraday cage around the cabin and let the passengers use whatever electronics they want? If planes are so delicate, does that mean we can shoot them out of the sky with a radio and a dish?

Re:Faraday cage (1)

grommit (97148) | about 6 years ago | (#25314479)

Because Faraday cages are made of metal and metal is heavy. Heavy and flying don't mix very well.

Now Qantas too? (2, Funny)

Tjaden (1373959) | about 6 years ago | (#25314413)

Charlie: Ray, all airlines have crashed at one time or another, that doesn't mean that they are not safe.

Raymond: QANTAS. QANTAS never crashed.

Charlie: QANTAS?

Raymond: Never crashed.

Charlie: Oh that's gonna do me a lot of good because QANTAS doesn't fly to Los Angeles out of Cincinnati, you have to get to Melbourne! Melbourne, Australia in order to get the plane that flies to Los Angeles!

That's a shame, now Rain Man REALLY can't fly

Kidding me right? (3, Insightful)

yoshi_mon (172895) | about 6 years ago | (#25314417)

Sounds like a classic case of FUD to mask the real issue. Along with making sure that people stay scared about using electronic devices in plains.

I hate to break it to the aviation industry but we are pushing along in the 21st century these days. They are going to have to design and fly planes with people using electronic devices. There is no reason why a modern aircraft should not be able to accommodate that within reasonable limits.

Post hoc ergo prompter hoc (4, Insightful)

McGregorMortis (536146) | about 6 years ago | (#25314431)

In July, a passenger clicking on a wireless mouse mid-flight was blamed for causing a Qantas jet to be thrown off course, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's monthly report.

Safety investigators will now ask passengers if they were using any electronic equipment at the time of this latest incident.

This seems like a rather dangerous way to go about finding the real cause. They are assuming the cause, and now looking for proof. They have confirmation bias oozing from every pore.

Digital or Analogue ? (1)

cheap.computer (1036494) | about 6 years ago | (#25314501)

Which device causes more interference? Digital or Analogue ? Either way, when the plane lands/takes off and it gets close to the ground, it is immersed in all sorts of digital/Analogue noise, microwave, terrestrial TV, cell phone etc that is much more powerful than "hand held" devices on board. So we should be seeing more incidents of Airplane crashes on takeoff and landings right ? or does the shell of the airplane shield the components?

All I know is (1)

CNO Dave (266707) | about 6 years ago | (#25314513)

I was sitting at home on my patio and a Qantas aircraft flew over and my laptop crashed with some error message about landing gear file not found

Wireless Interference (1)

jkeelsnc (1102563) | about 6 years ago | (#25314527)

I have flown half way around the world including half of that on the very model of aircraft that was having the problem (Charlotte to Frankfurt). Anyway, although it is somehow possible that a wireless mouse MIGHT cause some kind of problem I really have a hard time understanding how the airline and Airbus could forget to make sure that wiring is properly shielded to prevent this kind of problem. I guess it is too expensive to wire the control systems with fiber which would eliminate the problem completely. Getting a hint from me Airbus and Boeing? I hope so. I hope that there were not extraneous signals traveling around the wires on that USAirways Airbus A330 and Lufthansa Boeing 747 I flew on in the spring. :)

Flight Simulator 2008? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 6 years ago | (#25314531)

Wow, and I remember when old flight sims would just crash my computer...

First liquids, now electronics (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314543)

This trend is shifting towards making passengers feel more like dogs in a dog van.. first no liquids (they have "relaxed" to 3oz is okay limit now) which makes people stink.. now this would make the already freaked out FAA ban all electronics.. its insane! Also, if it has been so easy for anyone to play real airplane simulator all this while, its amazing.. what next, banning clothes on planes because [insert insane argument]? already the xray machines get a trailer, so why not the whole movie? nudist plane ride isnt a bad idea..

Interfering with nav instruments is one thing... (1)

sam0737 (648914) | about 6 years ago | (#25314589)

Yes it is. If the aircraft is flying in auto-pilot mode (which is almost the case in mid-air), that a garbage going in to the navigation system would also result in a garbage out to the elevator control system.

That said, I don't think it's practically possible...those fly by wire system does have checksum, CRC or whatsoever to protect the data. The analog path should really have been limited to the first few millimeter from sensors to the microchip. You are telling me that a bluetooth could affect the system even with that distance (distance from the seat to the electronics)? May be I would buy that idea ONLY if my cell phone ringing next to my USB disk could cause a unrepairable flipped bit, or blue screen.

Everything is shielded (1)

Kagato (116051) | about 6 years ago | (#25314605)

Every inch of wire in the plane is supposed to be shielded. While they would like you not to use electronics, in particular in old airplanes, there's no reason why an A330 should have any problems.

Who cares about interference? (1)

FrameRotBlues (1082971) | about 6 years ago | (#25314625)

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,24463183-661,00.html [news.com.au]

http://www.aviation.com/travel/ap-081008-quantas-altitude-drop.html [aviation.com]

Notice how these two stories have contradicting points.

Every American flight I've ever been on requests that you keep your seat belt fastened when you're in your seat, and I've been on plenty. They say that specifically to prevent these kinds of accidents. I've also been in some severe turbulence where you'd want to be buckled up because of the way it tosses around hundreds of tons of perfectly functioning airplane. The question for me isn't whether there was electrical interference from consumer products (highly unlikely), but why did so many people have their seatbelt off mid-flight.

Cantenna (2, Informative)

Dan East (318230) | about 6 years ago | (#25314699)

A simple directional antenna operating at a few watts from the ground could expose the avionics to many times more RF energy than these low-power devices inside the aircraft.

In other words, if this was really due to RF, then terrorists would be dropping planes out of the sky on a daily basis with $50 worth of equipment and a Pringles can.

Re:Cantenna (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 6 years ago | (#25314805)

and a Pringles can.

Pringles cans suck for wifi antennas. They're too small and they're not made of metal - silvery cardboard isn't the same thing at all!

What you want is an olive can, about 85mm in diameter. That'll get your signal out there, or up there if you're using it to down planes.

Clickjacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314709)

This takes clickjacking to a whole new level.

Mythbusters (1)

Spooon69 (758526) | about 6 years ago | (#25314715)

Didn't Mythbusters already disprove this electronic interference myth? Airline companies do it for safety's sake, even though all the important things are already shielded. Qantas just needs a scapegoat.

Liars or Fools, you decide.. (1)

FireStormZ (1315639) | about 6 years ago | (#25314727)

Option 1 (Airlines are Liars): So the current attitude of fear can be used in such a manner than any defect in design or operation of an airplane can be blamed on something that happens on *every flight* (people using electronics) thus freeing the Airline of responsibility. I just flew this past weekend and in addition to using my laptop to let my toddlers watch a movie (thus not drive me and the other passengers insane), We have all seen dozens on laptops on a two hour domestic flight, I don't fly internationally all that much but I'm guessing there is more of a need on a 6-10 hour flight.

Option 2 (Aircraft makers are Fools): Did you really design a system that a blue tooth mouse can take off course! you do realize people fly in these things right? If this is the case I will avoide Airbus like the plague!

Sounds like bullshit to me... (5, Insightful)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 6 years ago | (#25314729)

How the hell can a *wireless mouse* affect the elevator controls of an aircraft? Are they somehow about a trillion times more susceptible to interference than the electronics in cars? Let's think logically about this for a fucking minute...

You can use a mobile phone in a car, which has damn near every function controlled by some sort of electronics (well, if it was built within the last ten years). Despite this, cars don't routinely have all sorts of weirdass control failures caused by people talking on mobile phones, which may be using an output power of up to a few hundred milliwatts. They are *sometimes* affected by massive sources of very very loud RF, like military RADAR systems - there's a spot of German autobahn known for cars having mysterious electrical failures which clear up when the car is towed a kilometer down the road. No surprises here, there's a big RADAR installation *right by the road*.

"But it's a wireless mouse, using bluetooth!" - okay, so that means it's on 2.4GHz. Fire up your laptop in the car. Weird electrical problems? Nope. Nothing. Right there you're using about 50mW of 2.4GHz RF, maybe up to 100mW depending on the card and local telecoms regulations. Get your bluetooth mouse out. Anything? Probably not - since they transmit in the order of a handful of *microwatts* of RF.

Okay, let's look at the plane - I wonder if it's got any sort of digital radio transmitter on it? Oh, look, a transponder, and that puts out somewhere between 100W and 500W depending on the type. Ah yes, and an ACARS transmitter with at least 5W, possibly as much as 25W, again depending on the type...

So, what are you saying here? Do you seriously expect me to believe that a wireless mouse operating in the microwatt range can affect the avionics of an aircraft, but *somehow* the aircraft's own very high power radio transmitters don't? There's probably more stray RF at 2.4GHz from the galley microwave.

Saying that it was caused by a wireless mouse is unquestionably bollocks.

That's not the problem. (1)

Animats (122034) | about 6 years ago | (#25314749)

It's something into which investigators are looking. It's not even a likely cause.

Aircraft system interference from personal electronics has been observed a few times related to navigational signals, but those are weak RF signals from the outside. The control signals for the flight control system go over redundant networks, and there are multiple computers driving them. The Airbus primary and backup control systems are on different kinds of processors with different software in different languages developed by different teams.

I suspect they're looking really hard at the sensors for the pitch damper. Like most large aircraft, the Airbus has an automatic pitch damping system, to keep the tail from oscillating up and down, which is annoying to passengers in the back. An unexplained excursion in pitch will draw attention to that system.

(not yet) obligatory (1)

rbrausse (1319883) | about 6 years ago | (#25314771)

a rather old comic strip and in the strange language called "German" but not too offtopic and nice :)

[heise.de]

The screen reads "New device found. Device:A310. Start Auto-Configuration?"

Wireless Dangerous? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25314793)

If a wireless device could actually bring a plane down do you think they'd just tell you to turn them off? NO! they'd never let you on the plane with one, like a gun.

Just isnt interference - air pressure is to blame (1)

supra11000 (1369641) | about 6 years ago | (#25314807)

Planes are unable to be controlled wirelessly. The plunge in altitude of 300 feet was most likely due to a sudden change in air pressure. Its happened before, over thousands of feet, which is much worse. People should keep their seatbelts on. If a wireless mouse can push a plane off course, then that fact would have been exploited. The only thing that could affect the planes direction is if the plane was using radio navigation, rather than gps. And bluetooth mice dont emit a constant, high power set of radiowaves anyway. Its absurd.
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