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Time to Review FAA Gadget Policies

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the please-leave-on-electronic-devices dept.

Transportation 292

Nick Bilton, Lead Technology writer for The New York Times Bits Blog, called the FAA to complain about its gadget policies on flights and got an unexpected reply. Laura J. Brown, deputy assistant administrator for public affairs, said that it might be time to change some of those policies and promised they'd take a “fresh look” at the use of personal electronics on planes. From the article: "Yes, you read that correctly. The F.A.A., which in the past has essentially said, 'No, because I said so,' is going to explore testing e-readers, tablets and certain other gadgets on planes. The last time this testing was done was 2006, long before iPads and most e-readers existed. (The bad, or good, news: The F.A.A. doesn’t yet want to include the 150 million smartphones in this revision.)"

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What's so bad about their policies? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39398987)

You can use all of those devices in-flight. You can't use them during takeoff and landing, but that's as much to do with safety as anything. You can use wifi on equipped planes.

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (4, Insightful)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399045)

You can ban pretty much anything in the name of safety.

The other side of the story (5, Interesting)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399145)

"Earlier this year, aviation journalist Christine Negroni obtained a copy of a confidential report from the International Air Transport Association that indicated the use of personal electronics on commercial aircraft had interfered with flight deck operations in 75 instances over the past seven years.

What kind of problems? I’m not sure you want to know. All cockpit systems were affected, flight controls, communication, navigation and emergency warnings. . . .

And

The use of PEDs [Personal Electronic Devices. –DS] on board will not – I repeat – will not cause a plane to go tumbling through the sky like something in a made-for-TV-disaster movie. What PEDs can and in fact have already done, is create a distraction for the flight crew. When that distraction comes at the wrong time it can lead to pants-wetting episodes and maybe even disaster. And that is why boys and girls, devices are supposed to be turned off as in OFF, below 10 thousand feet. The concept is that with sufficient altitude below us there is time to address any pesky error messages that might wind up being transmitted to the cockpit. Only now we know that those messages are pretty darn common."

Handhelds on Airplanes a Bigger Problem Than You Think [blogspot.co.uk]

Re:The other side of the story (4, Insightful)

rwa2 (4391) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399209)

Word.

It doesn't even really matter if the device is capable of creating interference. The fact is, when the aircraft suddenly jumps and the lights flicker out and the oxygen masks drop from the overhead compartments, everyone and their flight attendants are going to be glaring down with dirty looks at the guy with the little glowing electronic device, thinking "what the FUCK did you DO?!" and they're not going to care one bit what the answer is. Not even the NTSB report that comes out months later is going to vindicate him or ease that guilt one bit.

Yeah, I used to be that guy. :-P

Re:The other side of the story (4, Insightful)

meerling (1487879) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399233)

You have to wonder about the planes when they claim they are vulnerable to em interference from a device who's em radiation is less than that of your watch, the microwave in the onplane galley, the lightning bolts that go off even on clear days, or the radio station 150 miles away.

(Not all devices have this kind of shielding, but some do. Anything with wifi turned on definitely do NOT.)

Re:The other side of the story (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399255)

Despite what libertards like to believe, in cases like this devices are dangerous until proven safe, not the other way around. It is almost certainly overly cautious, but the last thing you want is for a device to cause problems with the controls in fly by wire aircraft or otherwise interfere with the operation of the plane.

What's more even on long distance flights you're probably not going to be on a plane for more than 10 or 11 hours at a stretch very often. Most of those planes have built in entertainment.

Re:The other side of the story (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399553)

Well, I am not sure what you are talking about when you mention the EM radiation from your watch. That should either be essentially zero, in the case of an analog watch, or... well still essentially zero, if you are talking about an LCD watch. Unless you have a fancy "smart watch" which plays MP3s or something... I don't think anyone claimed a plane was vulnerable to less radiation than your watch puts out.

That said, since some devices can and do cause interference, the default should be "don't allow", and then certain devices (or even classes of devices) can be allowed after extensive testing. The onboard microwave, you can be sure, received many many hours of testing, and is probably a special model, with special shielding. They also control when and how it is operated. For example, let's say the GPS goes out every time the microwave is run - they know how to restore it if needed, and they know why it is out. If that kind of thing happens randomly and uncontrollably due to some combination of consumer devices, that's a different situation.

Lightning bolts have a tremendous amount of energy, but are very, very brief. Other than creating some static on analog radio communications, they don't usually cause much interference. (Unless they strike you, then they can cause circuit failure).

Radio stations are a known quantity, since they are pretty much always operating in the same locations, frequencies, and power levels. The airplane is also so far away from them most of the time, that the power level is very low. A much weaker signal (like the WiFi from my laptop) can be much stronger in the interior of airplane, given that it's much closer. Also, let's not forget that the airplane is a metal box, it blocks out outside signals for the most part, and keeps inside signals bouncing around longer.

Re:The other side of the story (3, Insightful)

WrecklessSandwich (1000139) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399311)

This raises a very serious question: Why are airplane electronics not designed for noise immunity? It seems like such an obvious solution, like adding security doors to the cockpit after 9/11.

Re:The other side of the story (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399367)

This raises a very serious question: Why are airplane electronics not designed for noise immunity? It seems like such an obvious solution, like adding security doors to the cockpit after 9/11.

To be fair, much as it should be the airline's job to ensure the aircraft can't be affected, replacing the cockpit door is a heck of a lot easier than replacing aircraft avionics or rewiring them to prevent interference. Even before you consider the cost of the new hardware, that could require taking the aircraft out of service for weeks at a cost of six figures or more of lost revenue per week.

Newer aircraft should be more robust, but the older ones will be around for decades yet.

Re:The other side of the story (4, Interesting)

WrecklessSandwich (1000139) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399647)

Agreed, retrofitting is less than practical in this case. However, this should have been happening with new designs at least since cell phones have been prevalent.

Re:The other side of the story (5, Insightful)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399619)

This raises a very serious question: Why are airplane electronics not designed for noise immunity?

You have to realize that most aircraft in service have been in service for decades. For example, Boeing 737s first came out in 1968. MD-88s/90s came out in 79/95. Except for the MD-90, these planes were designed and produced when a "personal electronic device" was a radio set that would fit on a table, maybe an 8-track or cassette player. It wasn't really expected that they'd run into much interference from passenger devices. It is very hard and expensive to retrofit aircraft already in service as well as to adjust production lines. A lot of people don't realize that the plane they're flying in very possibly was designed and built before they were born.

Re:The other side of the story (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399453)

FAA did testing years ago when they grounded planes and found that all planes are and have been properly shielded for *quite* some time.

How do I know? my work did the testing and results came back and basically confirmed it.

Re:The other side of the story (5, Informative)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399593)

On the other hand, TFA says

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration collects reports from pilots of incidents related to electronic devices. Of 50 incidents in the most recent report check from last year, few had anything to do with cockpit interference. Mostly it was reports of people who simply didn’t turn off their device or laptop batteries overheating, not of any kind of interference from those devices.

Those incidents that were related to the plane’s avionics were purely speculation. For example, in one report, a fuel gauge on a Boeing 757 was not working properly during takeoff, but began working again when the plane was landing. The report says the pilot “suspects” a possible electronic device on the plane caused the interference. The pilot admitted he did not do any testing.

In other words, there is absolutely zero evidence that the device is a cause of interference. There are, of course, numerous examples of pilots claiming they caused interference, with no scientific evidence ever backing up those claims (I am, in fact, not aware of any such scientific results whatsoever.) Remember, correlation != causation... and every all the instances of interference is anecdotal and correlative at best. If the devices cause interference, than you should be able to replicate it scientifically. Until someone does, I'm calling it BS.

Re:The other side of the story (0)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399809)

In other words, there is absolutely zero evidence that the device is a cause of interference. There are, of course, numerous examples of pilots claiming they caused interference, with no scientific evidence ever backing up those claims (I am, in fact, not aware of any such scientific results whatsoever.) Remember, correlation != causation... and every all the instances of interference is anecdotal and correlative at best. If the devices cause interference, than you should be able to replicate it scientifically. Until someone does, I'm calling it BS.

But are you really that inconvenienced to turn off your device for 5 minutes out of a 5-hour long flight that that it is that much of an issue? If you aren't using your device, you are more likely to pay attention to the safety briefing, and if anything is going to go wrong during your flight, it will probably happen during takeoff or landing. That way if something should happen, you are not distracted by your DS or iPad and have that much more time to realize what's going on and respond to flight crew instructions. So, even if the devices don't cause catastrophic interference, there are still other reasons why it's a good idea for these devices to be off and stowed during these periods.

Liability and idiots. (0, Offtopic)

mjwx (966435) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399657)

The use of PEDs [Personal Electronic Devices. â"DS] on board will not â" I repeat â" will not cause a plane to go tumbling through the sky like something in a made-for-TV-disaster movie.

But a 250 ton cigar tube, rocketing up to and beyond 250 KPH down 2500 metres will cause a hand-held device to go tumbling out of your hand and into someone else's face (MTOW, take off speed and distance at MTOW for a B777-200, and airliners get bigger than a 777-200).

That's the reason you aren't meant to use them in take off and landing, because there is a lot of force that the average Iphone toting butterfingers cant handle. If it hits anyone, the airline is liable and they may even be forced to turn back and land in order to get medical attention (again, to avoid a law suit) for an person hit by an Ipad or Iphone. This is why every cupboard on the plane is alarmed. If it's not shut properly the alarm will go off during take off, the forces involved in take off make light object dangerous projectiles. Even if it doesn't hit anyone it's still a danger as people are stupid enough to get up during climb to get their gadget.

Every second or third flight I'm on, as soon as we reach cruise altitude (sometimes before we reach cruise) I hear someone shouting out, "Has someone seen my Iphone, I dropped my Iphone and I cant find my Iphone" followed by that person turning the flight attendant call on and off repeatedly as their damned Iphone is more important then anything else.

Your gadgets are banned during take off and landing because idiots cant be trusted and they'll sue the pants off an airline if they get so much as a nasty bruise, even if it's their own fault.

Re:The other side of the story (4, Informative)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399681)

It's a bit difficult to find the information on how many flights there are in the US per year, but this article [bts.gov] states that in 2004 there were 6,830,000 airplane flights in the US. I'm going to use an even smaller number - 5,000,000 - as a baseline.

In 7 years - 35,000,000 flights - we have had something go wrong due to said devices 75 times, or around 0.000214% of the time. Is it really worth inconveniencing everyone when the number is that remote?

Re:The other side of the story (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399693)

One of the worst airport disasters, at Tenerife, Canary Islands, may have been aggravated by communications interference [wikipedia.org] . In this case, it was caused by simultaneous VHF transmissions from both aircraft. But the idea that a pop, crackle or buzz might hamper critical radio traffic is one thing that drives the ban on electronics use during critical flight legs.

No, your iPad isn't going to cause a systems failure directly. But I've walked by an FM radio with my cell phone when it started to squawk and I'll challenge anyone to comprehend the broadcast during those few seconds.

Re:The other side of the story (2)

Man On Pink Corner (1089867) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399697)

Hint: If it can't be reproduced, it didn't happen.

Re:The other side of the story (4, Interesting)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399721)

You're referring to a blogger, who admittedly also wrote a piece for the NYT, but she is basing all of this on a "confidential" report by a public safety agency(FOIA request anyone?) and 10 anonymous tips to a website.

While I certainly believe that electronics can have an effect on other electronics, I in no way believe that a PED is capable of disrupting any mission-critical system on a modern commercial airliner. This comes from the background of a computer scientist, electrical engineer, and a pilot. The notion that a small portable device could do anything more than interfere with radio communications in a plane is nonsense.

First, there is absolutely no way a phone or similar device can disable autopilot unless it is somehow connected to the avionics systems. The autopilot activation doesn't base anything on radio communications, and all of the aircraft electronics are in fact heavily RF shielded. To trip up an autopilot, a PED would have to somehow disturb the gyroscopes controlling the instrumentation that feeds data to the AP. As these are primarily controlled by independent vacuum systems and physical gyroscopes behind the dials, that seems rather unlikely.

The digital components of the AP, such as RNAV/GPS or an FMC-Managed system would have a slim to nil possibility of interference - however it would not deactivate the AP. It would just return it to pilot control instead of computer control. A pilot that actually has to fly a plane instead of watching the AP do it for him? Oh the horror, oh the humanity!

A majority of the systems even on a modern airplane are mechanical, not electronic. They may have some electronic components to them, but those are usually just to relay the data to a computer monitoring system. They don't affect the primary display or the true value of the instrument readout(unless you're the flight log computer). Do you really think my Kindle is going to kill your fuel pump? Or the hydraulic system? Or the Cabin Pressure Control System? Or the heating pack? Or the FADEC in the engines all the way out on the wing? Or the landing gear?

No. The most it's going to do is add a little static to a radio communication(if miraculously my WiFi radio has a stronger signal than the plane, on a completely unrelated band). These rules are long overdue for reconsideration.

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (3, Informative)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399265)

It's pretty much common knowledge in the airline industry that the takeoff and landing blackout is more about controlling pax and being able to get their attention than any interference issue.

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399111)

The question is whether it actually *does* affect safety.

It should be possible to certify a device as being physically impossible to cause a problem. Calculate the maximum possible short-circuit discharge current due to capacitance in the device. Calculate the maximum interference noise on frequencies of importance. Determine whether that could disrupt communication on those frequencies in a flight-threatening manner.

One could also compare devices to other existing sources of electronic noise -- the potential discharge of say, a digital wristwatch, a static spark from moving around in the plane, static from wind blowing across aircraft flight surfaces, etc.

Even if existing devices are too high power, there should be able to be a point in which you can say, "if your device is constructed thusly, we'll let your consumers use it on a plane". And then leave it up to manufacturers to get their maximum potential sources of interference down to spec.

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (4, Insightful)

Keebler71 (520908) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399337)

.. and whose job is it to maintain the list of which of the hundreds of thousands of consumer electronic devices comply and which failed? And do you expect the flight attendants to be able to tell the difference between every one? How do you implement this? Maybe a nice little (easily forged) sticker for the back of the device?

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (2)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399389)

How is this any more complicated than CE certification?
How is it any easier to fake than CE certification?
How is it any more complex for flight attendants than saying "If your device isn't certified for use on airplane during takeoff?"
Why wouldn't manufacturers advertise the heck out of whether their products are certified or not?
Why do you think that flight attendants wouldn't quickly learn the most common certified and non-certified products? Do they not talk with each other? Do they not see product ads?
How is the chance of people lying and using non-certified products any worse than people who "accidentally" leave their phones or other devices on today?

Re:What's so bad about their policies? (1)

martypantsROK (1413651) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399483)

BS. If that were true why don't the frickin terrorist bring down every plane in the world simply by turning on a phone/computer/tablet during takeoff or landing? And you know that people have them on anyway. Can't tell you how many people I've witnessed on planes use these devices (hiding them when a flight attendant is near) and, geewhiz, no planes have crashed because of it.

About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

SultanCemil (722533) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399013)

Obviously, electronic devices can't bring down a plane. Millions of fliers every week "forget" to turn off their devices, and nary a plane goes down. Can common sense finally prevail? Arbitrary rules reduce respect for the necessary ones. For example: No headphones during take-off? Makes perfect sense - take-off is one of the most sensitive times of the flight. If someone needs to yell directions, you need to hear them. Reading a book on your Kindle? Not so much.

Having said that, of course, if my plane is going down, I'd probably take off my headphones. YMMV.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (3, Interesting)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399107)

Nobody said electronic devices can "bring down" a plane. The issue has always been interference with a plane's navigation system. There have been documented cases where a jetliner mysteriously lost function in electronic systems, only to regain it after the flight crew went around turning off everyone's electronic gadgets. Some of them can emit quite a bit of RF.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Interesting)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399155)

citation please?
I've never read a documented case like that, I'm genuinely curious.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Informative)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399221)

NASA anonymous reporting system.... "So what would you think if you were the B777 pilot who's radio communication with air traffic control was interrupted by a passenger's cell phone call? Or if you were the captain in command of a B747 that unexpectedly lost autopilot after takeoff and did not get it back until 4, count 'em four passengers turned off their portable electronic devices?" http://christinenegroni.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/handhelds-on-airplanes-bigger-problem.html [blogspot.co.uk]

"In 2007, one pilot recounted an instance when the navigational equipment on his Boeing 737 had failed after takeoff. A flight attendant told a passenger to turn off a hand-held GPS device and the problem on the flight deck went away." http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/business/18devices.html [nytimes.com]

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399247)

So what would you think if you were the B777 pilot who's radio communication with air traffic control was interrupted by a passenger's cell phone call? Or if you were the captain in command of a B747 that unexpectedly lost autopilot after takeoff and did not get it back until 4, count 'em four passengers turned off their portable electronic devices?

I would think that Boeing did a piss-poor job of protecting the aircraft against interference.

Clearly terrorists are stupid when they try to sneak bombs on board; a dozen of them should bring iPads and iPhones onto a flight and turn them all on at the same time during takeoff.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

Spigot the Bear (2318678) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399305)

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (5, Informative)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399373)

Radio communication with ATC is an analog band just above FM radio, and involves shielded cables running from a shielded radio to one or more antennas located outside the body of the aircraft (which is a Faraday cage at those frequencies unless one of the doors is open, and probably even then).

Based on that, I'd rate the odds of a cell phone call interfering with an ATC call just south of the odds of getting hit by a meteor while dancing the Macarena. Actually, scratch that. It's more like the odds of dancing the Macarena creating a statistically significant increase in your risk of getting hit by a meteor.

The problem with using incident reports as a means of determining whether something is safe or not is that correlation is not causation. The fact that the autopilot came back online after four people shut off their laptops does not mean that those laptops caused the failure. It means that the autopilot came back on after those laptops were disabled. In much the same way, it rained in the SF Bay Area after I used the bathroom this morning, so obviously my toilet causes rain.... It's a lot more likely that the autopilot kicked out due to a transient problem in some sensor, a frozen pitot tube that thawed out, a power surge that caused a self-resetting circuit interruptor to temporarily shut off power to a critical piece of equipment, or some other temporary problem that went away on its own.

However, it is human nature to look for and see patterns even when they don't exist. Thus, after years of being told that electronics can cause planes to misbehave, people immediately assume that somebody's MP3 player is at fault whenever something unexplainable happens on an aircraft. The flight crew tells people to shut down their electronics. After a while, things start working again, so the flight crew then assumes that those electronics caused the problem when the evidence supporting that conclusion is flimsy at best and nonexistent at worst. That doesn't prevent it from being reported as an incident, though.

If you really want useful data, the flight crew needs to tell those passengers to turn that equipment back on and see if the problem recurs. If it does, then it probably contributed to the problem. If it does not, it probably did not. The problem is that nobody wants to do this because they're too afraid that turning it back on might bring the plane down. And this is why incident reports are nearly useless as a means of determining safety.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399413)

Interesting, but it brings up more questions than it answers. It says there were approximately 75 cases in the past 7 years where a pilot reported something suspicious that *may* have been the result of personal electronics interfering with systems. But no information on any followup to see if that was actually the case.

I'm not saying that there couldn't possibly be a link (though other articles from the same source [nytimes.com] do...) I'm just saying that it sounds like no real followup was ever done on those cases to see if they were coincidence, pilot error, equipment malfunction (on either the personal electronics, or aircraft systems) or any other cause.
Seems to me that this would have been of great interest to the whole aviation industry?

GPS (2)

FirephoxRising (2033058) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399645)

I don't know why you'd want a GPS running on a plane anyway, but aren't they receivers? Does anybody here know what and how much they emit?

Re:GPS (1)

Aighearach (97333) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399733)

They emit about as much as a calculator of similar power consumption.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399753)

A blogger citing one instance of a handheld GPS system interfering with the plane-mounted one? Gee, that's a whole lot of trouble given the last ~100 years of flying and how little PEDs have done to cause problems on planes.

In the immortal words of Toby from The West Wing:

Flight Attendant on AF1: "Sir you need to put away your phone, we're about to take off."
Toby: "If my $36 phone from Radio Shack can bring down Air Force One, we have bigger problems than we thought."

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1, Flamebait)

Darth_brooks (180756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399249)

I've always looked at the policies as a hedge against the *really* crappy knock-off electronic devices that spring up. Sure, the wifi on that super cheap android knock-off tablet is under 100mw....sure....

But for the most part, the FAA is in the business of blaming *someone* when something goes wrong. A reversal of the no electronic devices could someday potentially conceivable maybe result in them getting some share of the blame for an incident.

In the end, I just wish more people would act like adults when it comes to the policy. Yeah, it's kinda bunk, but there's a kernel of common sense in there. Seriously. Just shut your fucking iPad off for five minutes. Or your phone. Grow up, pay attention to your surroundings for fifteen minutes (The HORROR!) then go about your day. Quit acting like the NRA Lifers that think Obama is going to personally show up that their house to take away their guns when it comes to your damn cell phone.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

hal2814 (725639) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399783)

" Seriously. Just shut your fucking iPad off for five minutes."

Tell that to the pilots and crew who are using them now instead of lugging around a flight bag full of charts. Their iPad is the same one you can buy anywhere. If their which are sitting right in the cockpit aren't gumming up the works, I fail to see how mine magically will.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (2)

Spy Handler (822350) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399319)

From a quick 5 second google search:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/110576/cell_phones_still_pose_flight_risks.html [pcworld.com]

From March 1996 to December 2002, CAA recorded 35 aircraft safety-related incidents that were linked to cell phones, the authority said.

The reported interference incidents included interrupted communications due to noise in the flight crew's headphones, according to the study.

Even minor interference such as introducing static noise on flight crew's headsets can be a not-so-good thing during takeoffs and landings when the pilot already has his hands full.

People tend to be skeptical about this because in their normal daily existence, they do not see any problem with cellphones and do not experience interference with their other electronic devices (TV, computer, etc). But they need to keep in mind, an airliner is a different story... it's basically an enclosed metal cage with lots of electronics inside, plus several hundred passengers (all of whom can be carrying RF-emitting devices).

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (2)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399433)

Given that even the most RFI-noisy cell phones (GSM) only affect unshielded high-gain power amplifiers within a radius of about five or six feet in open air, even after factoring in constructive interference from signals bouncing off the metal skin, a cell phone causing "static" that interferes with an ATC call would still have to be in the cockpit or the forward galley. And if those amplifiers are unshielded, the designers should be shot.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

HappyEngineer (888000) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399487)

Either they're dangerous or they're not. If they're dangerous then the planes need to be fixed to prevent terrorists from using this to cause problems. If they're not then stop adding one more pointless annoyance to plane travel which is already one of the least enjoyable activities that people undergo voluntarily.

Furthermore, if low em is ok, but badly shielded devices are a problem then the solution is simple. Have em sensors around the plane. If any of the sensors detects excessive em, the stewardess will come over with a hand detector and find the jackass with the bad device. You could probably set that up on each plane for less than the cost of a few plane tickets.

The proper solution is not to berate people for wanting to be able to pass the time using the devices they always use to pass the time. Plane travel fucking sucks. There's no reason to make it one bit worse than it needs to be.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399489)

Was any followup ever done on any of those 35 cases to see if the cell phones were actually the cause of the interference?

Incident reports of that form are simply "the crew says this happened"... it would be a lot more convincing if some followup was done to see if it was actually cell phone interference, or other interference that just happened to abate some time after a known cell phone was turned off.

It should be noted that the study linked stated that they weren't able to reproduce the results. Additionally the test they did that did show some interference had several unlikely assumptions. First of all, the equipment they used was that used in general aviation, not commercial aviation. It was also all old and outdated equipment unlikely to be in use on any airliner. Additionally the cell phone had to be on maximum power (I'm also not sure where they found a cell phone with a maximum power of 2 watts! I haven't seen one that powerful since the old brick phones of the late 1980s!) and less than 30cm from the equipment before it caused any interference.

Hardly a reliable study for the current situation we are discussing.

Swissair Flight 111 (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399197)

had bad wiring on in-flight entertainment that started a fire.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (2)

Osty (16825) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399201)

Needs citation.

There was a case [newscientist.com] of in-flight wifi systems causing certain new displays to blank out periodically, but:

  • The blanking was within spec, and the display returned to function in less than the required time before it would be a problem.
  • The culprit was the in-flight wifi system, not an individual's personal electronics
  • There is absolutely nothing a passenger could do that would cause a problem like that short of running a super high-powered personal hotspot device while sitting in the very front row of first class.

Your story sounds like an urban legend, especially since there have been many studies that show at worst personal electronics do not interfere at all with any systems.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399759)

Nobody said electronic devices can "bring down" a plane.

So quickly we forget [photobucket.com]

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Informative)

pz (113803) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399147)

The reason you should not be reading your kindle, or have a laptop out during takeoff and landing, or any reasonably hard-edged, dense object is that it has the potential to become a projectile upon sudden deceleration. The less crap raining horizontally through the cabin upon impact, the better the chances of survivability.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

dgatwood (11270) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399479)

I'm sitting here holding a Nook Simple Touch in one hand and an average-sized paperback book in the other (typing with my feet :-p ). The Nook weighs slightly less than the paperback book (7.6 ounces versus 8.5 ounces). It weighs significantly less than a hardcover book of comparable length (1 pound, 9.5 ounces).

I suppose you could make the argument that it would hurt more than the paperback book because if it hits edge-first, it would spread that weight over a smaller area, but even that argument falls apart when you compare it with a hardcover book.

Banning laptops, sure. Banning full-color tablets, maybe. Banning eBook readers? Unless there's a testable, verifiable interference issue, that's just backwards.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1, Insightful)

martypantsROK (1413651) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399499)

"The reason you should not be reading your kindle, or have a laptop out during takeoff and landing, or any reasonably hard-edged, dense object is that it has the potential to become a projectile" LMFAO! What a f**king joke. By that lame reasoning, we should ban books, cups, magazines, glasses (vision, not optical) or anything else not nailed down.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Insightful)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399761)

But they don't care if you have your electronics out. They don't care if you're holding your iPod. They just want it turned off.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399165)

For example: No headphones during take-off? Makes perfect sense - take-off is one of the most sensitive times of the flight. If someone needs to yell directions, you need to hear them. Reading a book on your Kindle? Not so much.

Until that Kindle goes flying about in the cabin and hitting someone because you had it out when you weren't supposed to.

That is why they're all prohibited during critical phases of flight. It's not just about being able to hear instructions, but also about keeping loose objects secured in the cabin so they don't turn into small missiles and cause injuries. People can also get stupid and distracted and not put down the item they're playing with during critical situations (see people insisting on bringing their bags during evacuations).

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (2)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399239)

Until that Kindle goes flying about in the cabin and hitting someone because you had it out when you weren't supposed to.

My Kindle weighs a heck of a lot less than the latest Stephen King doorstop novel. The corners probably aren't as sharp either.

Re:About time common sense prevailed! (4, Interesting)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399529)

I have personally observed interference from a camera (Nikon D70) on the navigation instruments on my Bonanza (caused the VOR needle to jump - we were in visual conditions at the time so it wasn't a problem). Of course airliner avionics is better - but we need the odds of substantial interference to be about 1 in a million for it not to be a safety risk.

It is true that many passengers fail to turn of electronics, but remember that the transmit power adds from all the devices. It is possible that 400 cell phones on a plane would be a more serious problem than the few that weren't turned off.

--- Joe Frisch

some parts are fine (1)

fightinfilipino (1449273) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399017)

the policy for putting away devices during take-off and landing is a sound one, for safety alone. take-off and landing are the most hazardous times during a flight. having small, solid, dense objects like cell phones, tablets, e-readers, game devices and the like unsecured during take-off or landing is just inviting trouble. for those times, it's probably better to avoid people being hit by the errant portable electronic device instead of allowing the "convenience" of their use.

Re:some parts are fine (2, Insightful)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399035)

That would make complete sense if you believed that 1) no one has ever had a cell phone on during takeoff and landing and b) someone who had nefarious intentions would abide by the rule.

Re:some parts are fine (1)

chebucto (992517) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399277)

His point had nothing to do with RF interference or terrorists - just that loose objects are hazardous in a crash situation. If a plane suddenly decelerates, that ipod at the back of the cabin can very well become a missile heading towards the front of the cabin.

Re:some parts are fine (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399779)

How the hell did this post get +5 Insightful? It's nothing to do with what it's replying to....

Re:some parts are fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399051)

If you are worried about blunt trauma from the teeny bopper's iPhone, then you will probably have more pressing "acceleration" and "deflagration" issues to worry about in a matter of milliseconds...

Re:some parts are fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399575)

It's a contributing factor. Most people will survive a plane crash. There are crashes that kill everybody, but those are very much in the minority. And as such being struck by flying debris is a very serious concern. Acceleration isn't much of an issue as the planes are designed for that. There is no particularly good way to design a plane for small flying objects.

Re:some parts are fine (4, Insightful)

Nursie (632944) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399093)

While I agree with what you're saying, and think it may be a good idea it doesn't seem to be the point of the rule -

I'm perfectly allowed to read a hardcover book during these times.

Re:some parts are fine (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399125)

Everything has an opportunity cost. What's the economic activity lost, for example, due to business travellers not being able to work during takeoff and landing?

Re:some parts are fine (2)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399237)

Brakes, undercarriage, mixture, flaps, fuel, altimeter, FUCKING CABIN SECURITY, landing light. That's how you get ready for landing any plane.

Cabin security means no loose items, everything is strapped down or stowed, everybody is fucking wearing shoes, has moderate situational awareness and is ready for emergency procedures like brace for impact, evacuation or fire.

Re:some parts are fine (1)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399253)

Oh, and my foul mouthed point was: people talking on the phone are not prepared to deal with an emergency.

Re:some parts are fine (3, Insightful)

cynyr (703126) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399335)

what about people reading the 2" thick hardcover book at those times?

If it is about "not prepared to deal with an emergency", then all activities during those times should not be allowed, this includes reading newspapers, and looking out the window.

Re:some parts are fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399301)

You forgot radio.

Re:some parts are fine (1)

FormOfActionBanana (966779) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399303)

Yeah. Brakes undercarriage mixture fuel pump, flaps, altimeter, radio call, cabin security landing light.

Re:some parts are fine (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399371)

You also forgot runway. You'll need one of those, unless you're some kind of hippie bush pilot.

Srsly, though, that's neat to hear.

My grandfather told me a story once from the war. He flew a Mosquito then.. one time, a mechanic and put some part in backwards (or something like that), and anyway, he came in to land, and when he threw some switch as part of the landing procedure - not sure which, I'll have to ask, but I think it was the flaps - his plane flipped upside-down. He had a very short period of time to right it and land it. Apparently he was very close to a crash.

Nerve-wracking, worth it, I'm sure. Whenever I'm on a commercial flight I always wish I had a pilot's license and plane to go with it.

Re:some parts are fine (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399473)

Shoes or no shoes, if they're fucking, they're not going to have situational awareness.

It isn't the FAA that said "No, because I said so" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399037)

It's the FCC that said, "No, because I said so" when it comes to cell phones on planes.

That being said, since most cellular antennae point somewhat towards the ground, you typically don't get much of a cell phone signal on a plane. (yes, I've tried many times)

Re:It isn't the FAA that said "No, because I said (3, Informative)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399185)

In small planes you certainly do, I've talked on a cell phone from within a cessna, and many headsets designed for small aircraft have bluetooth to connect to your cell phone (older ones had connectors for the wired jack on cell phones) so that you can talk on your cell phone despite the loud environment.
When I last flew on a military aircraft the flight engineer was talking on his cell phone to communicate with the rescue coordination centre when the HF radio failed.

Cell towers do aim somewhat downward, but at altitude you have nothing to block your signal, so they often work anyway.

That said, if cell phones were permitted on planes, you can bet the wireless carriers would rush to sign contracts to install small cell sites inside the planes. works better with their network, and you can bet they'd find a way to add a premium "airplane roaming charge" of some form.

In a perfect world I'd like to see it where you are allowed to use your cell phone all you want on a plane, as long as you don't talk on it. Texting and data are fine, but please don't chat on your phone for the whole flight, out of courtesy to the rest of the passengers!

Re:It isn't the FAA that said "No, because I said (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399213)

And that makes the handhelds bump up their power to max to try to connect with the ones on the ground, increasing the problem (if any) from spurious transmissions.

What I want to see evaluated... (3, Insightful)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399039)

...is the use of devices like Bluetooth mice and other short-range radio devices that don't communicate to a distance more than a few feet. I want to be able to use Bluetooth headphones and Bluetooth mice on a plane where getting tangled up with wires is a very unappealing prospect.

I'm not too worried about cell phones acting as such, as we'll be too high and going too fast to make that do any good (plus I don't want a plane full of chatterboxes), and I'm not terribly worried about wifi, as either the airline will provide a means for it or else they won't. The only time that for me, wifi might be useful is if I'm travelling with a group that's split up and we want to share text communication or else want to collaborate on documents. Then something ad-hoc might actually make sense.

That's about it.

Re:What I want to see evaluated... (1)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399063)

plus I don't want a plane full of chatterboxes

We already get that now! :) Seriously, have you been on a flight lately where someone hasn't whipped out their phone to call someone to let the know "we just landed" before the line of people in the aisle has even started moving?! [/rant]

Re:What I want to see evaluated... (1)

TWX (665546) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399119)

I don't give a damn about that once we are landed; that's a fairly short duration and if it helps people pull up the curb at the right time then that's fine.

Re:What I want to see evaluated... (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399123)

I'm not too worried about cell phones acting as such, as we'll be too high and going too fast to make that do any good (plus I don't want a plane full of chatterboxes)

I've met people involved with getting cell phones working on planes by installing their own 'cell tower' on board, so in the future you'll probably have to pay extra for the cell-free flights.

Re:What I want to see evaluated... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399179)

theres also technical reasons for that, something like GSM isn't designed to work at more than maybe 300km/h before frequency and timing offsets start to screw it up

Re:What I want to see evaluated... (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399313)

That bluetooth headset is not more than a couple of feet away from the trunk of avionics cabling and other critical stuff running along the length of the plane, just inches from the head of the person in the window seat.

Razors? (1)

fish waffle (179067) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399079)

Wait, electric razors are permitted? Why? Do you really, _really_ need to shave during that 1-5 minute take-off/landing window? I thought there were two main reasons for this rule---interference, and potential for projectiles. The interference argument is probably weak for most devices, but the potential to act as unintended projectiles is real, and a limitation that makes very good sense to me.

Really people, just put back in the back for that period, you can survive without it for a few minutes: just talk to someone near you, stare vacantly and think of your next twinkie fix, whatever, just leave the heavy metal items in the bag.

Re:Razors? (1)

antdude (79039) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399711)

Yes, I need to shave my beard during those boring events. [grin]

Familiar territory (5, Interesting)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399083)

I've been involved in this for a long time, including the Supplemental Type Certification and FAA processes to get WiFi on aircraft. Most of what happens to get you to turn them off during takeoff and landing has little to do with interference, it's to get your attention and to get you to follow directions. All of that is really important to your safety more-so than a nudeo-scan 5000 operated by the TSA. The other aspects such as Cellular Phone use during flights also isn't a technical risk to the aircraft but the annoyance factor to other passengers as well as coordination possibilities for terrorist activities.. Think "Ackbar we're over Chicago, what do I do?" That's why the damn in-flight position tracking on larger aircraft suddenly turns off when you're close to arrival. Some of this is a bit silly because we've allowed WiFi on planes and you can log into flight tracker or use the GOGO website to track where you are. The safety feature there is that it shuts off below 10,000 feet automatically and there's always a breaker in the cockpit that the pilots can use to shut it off.

If the FAA wants to review this then great but there's a lot more to it than just "possible" interference with aircraft systems and I don't expect that the airlines will open up the floodgates and let you use anything you want, when you want either just because of the annoyance issues.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399195)

The terrorist coordination thing is garbage.

I have a small bluetooth GPS that worked the whole flight. All I have to is connect it to my phone and run an app that decodes the GPS sentence and I can get coordinates.
If I'm doing the kind of attack that requires me to be near the airport, i just have to get a small feel for the coordinates of the airport and my present location and the distance between.

I could easily check my phone occasionally. Just act like I'm checking the time or be discreet where no one sees me. A little more discretion and I could send texts when I got to certain waypoints.

Terrorists using GPS or flight trackers is a red herring.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399205)

coordination possibilities for terrorist activities.. Think "Ackbar we're over Chicago, what do I do?"

Yes, because nobody would ever think to use the existing seat back telephones for that purpose, only a cell phone will do!

Re:Familiar territory (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399455)

I fly about every two weeks and it's been well over a year since I've seen a back-seat telephone.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399495)

The last flight I was on had them, that was about 6 months ago. I don't see those going away any time soon, or at least not until they allow another method of communication on the plane.

Re:Familiar territory (2)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399523)

I think it was because that terrorists couldn't get credit cards maybe?

That whole on board phone thing was a disaster for most airlines because they didn't make any real revenue on it and had to carry 100s of pounds of weight onboard the aircraft. Every pound = fuel $$$

Re:Familiar territory (1)

Imrik (148191) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399605)

I would imagine it's difficult to call someone who's on another plane with the seat back phone.

Re:Familiar territory (2)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399231)

Most of what happens to get you to turn them off during takeoff and landing has little to do with interference, it's to get your attention and to get you to follow directions.

Yet I'm allowed to do the crossword at that time, or read a large hard-cover book (if the follow up was about handheld projectiles). There may be some reasons to ban them, but any hint of any rule I've ever seen is not applied consistently, and that's what annoys/frustrates most.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

Virtucon (127420) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399537)

Well I can't argue with that point but the airlines also apply the same paint to all electronic devices. They *may* cause interference so to shut them off. What's really sad is that about 90% of the phone users I see just switch the screen off or switch it to airplane mode, so yeah it doesn't make much sense at all.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399727)

A cell phone "should be" switched into airplane mode, then turned off hard-off (airplane first so if turned on in flight for Angry Plants Vs Zombie Birds or whatever, it'll already be in airplane mode). But most put it in airplane mode and turn the screen off, which is not significantly different than playing a PSP or such. I've never seen a rule or application of rules that was anywhere close to consistent.

What you say doesn't add up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399251)

- An in flight magazine can be just as distracting to safety demos etc as an e-reader, yet those aren't banned. What's more many of the passengers are too young or too hard of hearing or don't speak the right language on many flights, so if this were important you'd need to pass some sort of flight safety test to fly (just as you do a test to get your license).

- Passengers are annoyed by other people's misused electronics a lot more during the majority of the flight that is not during the arrival and departure phases. Banning them for a few minutes wouldn't be worth the effort

- GPS and mobile use are weakly policed. If it were so important to do this to prevent terrorists communicating they would employ GPS and mobile jamming technology. Also there's very little tactical advantage turning off the devices just before take-off or landing. You can essentially guess 90%+ of schedules based on the periods mobile devices aren't in use. The truth is having pilots deal with in flight entertainment systems while trying to prep for takeoff or landing is dangerous. In at least one case an overheating in flight entertainment system has led to loss of aircraft and loss of life.

IN SHORT NOTHING YOU SAY MAKES SENSE OR ADDS UP.

Mobile phones do indeed cause comms interfeerence...especially with voice communication and atc. Ever heard those stupid da-da da-da da-da sounds coming through your computer speakers when you put the phone too close to a s[ealer wire. How would you like to have that cut off some vital tidbit while you're using terse phrases on not the clearest radio system in the world - at best an annoyance, but potentially more sinister if something important is missed or corrupted.

Re:Familiar territory (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399461)

Dude, it has nothing to do with terrorists. Where did you even get that idea from?

The reason is this: statistically speaking, altitudes below 10,000 feet are far more dangerous than higher altitudes. Most accidents occur during takeoff/landing and given that transponders are not required below 10,000 unless within controlled airspace and/or within a Mode C veil, it makes the lower altitudes a fairly dangerous area. Hence why Personal Electronic Devices (PEDs) are prohibited below 10,000 feet and sterile cockpit procedures are enforced any time the aircraft is below 10,000 feet.

Why then can passengers continue to listen to music and watch TV through the aircraft's on-board entertainment system at altitudes below 10,000 feet? The answer is that all of those systems have a built-in feature that disables (pauses, mutes, etc) them when a PA is made. PEDs do not have that ability which is why they are prohibited below 10,000 feet.

Read Advisory Circular 91-21.1B (specifically states that the FCC mandates the ban on using mobile phones while airborne), 14 CFR 121.306, and 14 CFR 121.542(c) for further information.

Re:Familiar territory (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399577)

I've been involved in this for a long time, including the Supplemental Type Certification and FAA processes to get WiFi on aircraft. Most of what happens to get you to turn them off during takeoff and landing has little to do with interference, it's to get your attention and to get you to follow directions.

So, I can wear my noise canceling headphones during takeoff and landing. But I have to turn them off! When they are off, they are nearly as effective as with the active noise canceling (turned on) at blocking sound. But even when plugged in to the entertainment system, they won't pass the system audio. So I can't hear diddly and I miss announcements.

Taking them off in addition to turning them off would be better. But then I have to listen to someone's shrieking sprog (there's no 'air mode' on those blasted things). And then I can't hear the safety announcements anyway. So the best situation would be to allow noise canceling headphones to be worn and turned on as long as they are plugged into the entertainment system. Or not at all (until all electronics are permitted to be powered up).

And stow the kids in the cargo hold in cat carriers.

I can't wait. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399135)

To be on a plane full of people yapping on their cellphones.

It will be just like going to the movies. Only you can't leave.

Re:I can't wait. (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399307)

Don't worry. Even if the FAA allows the use of phones on flights, it will still be against FCC rules, and they will have to have their cellular chipsets turned off.

Re:I can't wait. (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399333)

Even if the FAA allows the use of phones on flights, it will still be against FCC rules, and they will have to have their cellular chipsets turned off.

http://www.onair.aero/ [onair.aero]

I believe it's in operation already on some routes, perhaps not in America yet.

Guess who just bought a new iPad(N-2)? (3, Funny)

Centurix (249778) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399143)

The head of the FAA of course!

Re:Guess who just bought a new iPad(N-2)? (1)

green1 (322787) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399215)

You think the head of the FAA flies commercial????

Re:Guess who just bought a new iPad(N-2)? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399507)

You think the head of the FAA flies???

they look at it the wrong way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39399263)

Im sorry - but IF these things CAN cause problems - AND people do break the rules - then perhaps they should fix the electronics on the planes..... I understand thats a nontrivial task - but seeing as people leave their phones on all the time etc... that would be the best LONG term solution....
    Do it like an Car design rule - give the airlines time to implement = and solve the problem properly. They put rules on pollution (noise and emissions) on planes. They should do this on electronics as well.

Taxi-ing (1)

RoccamOccam (953524) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399421)

I'd be much less interested in this getting changed, if this was just about take-offs and landings. But, here in Atlanta, the taxi-ing part of the trip sometimes seems like it is longer than the actual flight.

'bout time!! (1)

Temujin_12 (832986) | more than 2 years ago | (#39399639)

The last time I flew on an airplane I took out my Android phone and turned on an app that uses GPS to track your elevation, speed, direction, pitch etc. It was a blast to watch how fast the plane accelerated down the runway, pitch as we would turn, and what the take-off, cruising, landing speeds. I then switched to google maps and watched as I zipped across states. It was a ton of fun.

And guess what? No ill effects on the airplane.

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