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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the hands-off-the-tubes dept.

Government 449

First time accepted submitter cathyreisenwitz writes "The New York Times' Bits blog has a great piece on the FAA's inconvenient, outdated and unhelpful rules regarding electronic devices on planes: 'Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.' The rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious."

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449 comments

Wow (5, Insightful)

avandesande (143899) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434831)

Imagine if the avionics industry wasn't regulated?

Re:Wow (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434911)

exactly, also there's no proof that electronics don't harm a plane's avionics, just wait until someone starts a pirate radio station on a plane

Re:Wow (4, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435063)

Great, now you only have to mention an EMP bomb to drive your point home. What exactly makes it more illegal to run an unauthorized high-power transmitter on a plane instead of running it on the ground? And shall I turn off my wristwatch before I board the airplane? You know, there's electronics inside, too.

Re:Wow (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435027)

Yea. A glass cockpit for a private single engine plane would maybe cost as much as a high end PC with a really fancy touch display. Instead a Garmin G1000 adds over $50K to the price of a new airplane.

Re:Wow (3, Funny)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435143)

And if I can't have Angry Birds on my iPad, then the pilots can't have flight maps on theirs!

Oh, wait...

THE FOLLY OF MICE AND MEN !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434839)

Was not a book !!

Re:THE FOLLY OF MICE AND MEN !! (1)

Pax681 (1002592) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435339)

Was not a book !!

it's the "Best laid plans o' mice and men" and it's a quote from Robert Burns.. and the quote was used for the title of the book by Steinbeck
MY family are from Ayr, literally just round the corner from where Burns was born and thus it was compulsory learning in school as he is the eternal national bard of Scotland ;)

Pilots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434855)

Are allowed to use iPads in all phases of flight, but if I read a book on mine... It's trouble.

Re:Pilots... (2, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435101)

Because with the flight crew you're dealing with a limited number of devices and a limited amount of potential RF interference. Extend that to passengers and you have not just 1-2 but possibly a hundred or more devices simultaneously, and that can have a drastically different effect on the avionics.

If I pour a gallon of water into a standard rowboat on a lake, it's not going to sink. If I pour another gallon of water in, it's still not going to sink. 2 gallons just isn't enough to cause a problem. even 5-6 gallons isn't. But if I pour a couple hundred gallons in, it's going to sink. I can't go "Well, adding another gallon didn't make a difference, so adding another gallon more won't either." indefinitely. At some point you reach the straw that broke the camel's back. When reaching that point can potentially get 200 or so people killed as the plane stops flying, I'd really rather we avoided going there.

Re:Pilots... (1)

Githaron (2462596) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435189)

You mean there are infinitely many seats on an airplane?

Re:Pilots... (2)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435215)

Nope. All you need is a number of devices greater than the number required to cause a problem. We have evidence that it's greater than 2-3. Can you present any evidence that it's always going to be greater than the number of seats on the airliner in question?

Re:Pilots... (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435377)

We have evidence that it's greater than 2-3.

Complete and utter bullshit.

Guess what? Every hour of every day, planes take off with >>3 devices running. Let me know when there's a problem.

Re:Pilots... (2)

Minwee (522556) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435217)

You mean there are infinitely many seats on an airplane?

Of course there are. Just keep booking as many paying passengers as you can, and if too many show up just bump them to the next flight.

Hasn't it always worked that way?

Re:Pilots... (2)

redmid17 (1217076) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435389)

Jesus, check out the linked NYT article and save yourself some embarrassment. "The F.A.A. then told me that “two iPads are very different than 200.” But experts at EMT Labs, an independent testing facility in Mountain View, Calif., say there is no difference in radio output between two iPads and 200. “Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that. Five Kindles will not put off five times the energy that one Kindle would,” explained Kevin Bothmann, EMT Labs testing manager. “If it added up like that, people wouldn’t be able to go into offices, where there are dozens of computers, without wearing protective gear.” "Bill Ruck, principal engineer at CSI Telecommunications, a firm that does radio communications engineering, added: “Saying that 100 devices is 100 times worse is factually incorrect. Noise from these devices increases less and less as you add more.”

Re:Pilots... (2)

neonKow (1239288) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435117)

Well, yes. Pilots are allowed to do all kinds of things we aren't allowed to. I am in favor of looser regulation re:electronics (mile-high LAN party, anyone?), but I disagree strongly with your reasoning.

Re:Pilots... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435163)

Actually, no. You can use your iPad, Kindle or whatever during cruise. As long as it is in airplane mode. That means disabling RF transceivers.

Pilots can be trusted, as professionals, to operate their devices in the correct modes. Passengers, not so much. And the cabin crew can't be expected to police the situation and figure out who is using their iPad to read a book, play online games or download porn. So there's a blanket rule: Shut the damned thing off during the most dangerous flight modes (takeoff and landing).

If you can't exhibit that small amount of self control, then don't fly.

Re:Pilots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435425)

Since there's been no evidence that RF transceivers from personal handheld devices cause any problems with aircraft flight operations, why should I have to turn them off?

Just don't bring your HAM radio.

Re:Pilots... (5, Informative)

plover (150551) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435185)

There's still a strong argument against permitting passenger electronics, but it's convoluted and you'll have to stick through a few points.

  • A portable device can adversely impact avionics. (DealExtreme used to sell GPS jammers that were the size of a pack of cards.)
  • Portable electronic devices sold in the US must pass FCC certification.
  • Counterfeit electronic devices do not pass FCC certification.
  • Counterfeit electronic devices are not uncommon.
  • A flight attendant cannot tell the difference between a certified device and an uncertified device.
  • Aircraft are not designed with Faraday cages for the passenger compartment, nor are they equipped with RF interference detectors.
  • Passenger convenience is less important than passenger safety.

When you add up all those factors, the FAA is playing it cautiously, but rationally. They don't get to say "let's see just how many flights are adversely impacted if we allow everyone to turn on randomly RF emitting electronics."

Sure, I know my iPad and iPhone and Kindle won't harm the plane's avionic system. You may know yours won't, either. But my nephew bought a cheap gray market phone that spews RF noise like a plague rat. How does a non-electronic-engineer flight attendant tell the difference?

Re:Pilots... (1)

jmauro (32523) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435195)

From what I understand while the rule was originally conceived because of interference with the first generation cell phones with the navigation equipment, this has since been corrected in both the airplane navigation equipment.

The rule is still in place though because the FAA and the airlines want you able to pay attention in case of emergency. You can hear the warnings or commands if issued by the flight crew because you're not using your headphones to drown out all the noise. Or get your headphones caught when you're trying to exit the plane preventing you or someone behind you from exiting the plane.

Besides if you cannot putdown the device for 15 minutes on each end of the flight there is something wrong, but it isn't with the FAA or the airlines.

Re:Pilots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435409)

Really? In both the airplane navagation equipment? I'm so happy!

Re:Pilots... (2)

redmid17 (1217076) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435419)

No, no it's not. If that were the case then people wouldn't be allowed to read books and magazines during the pre-flight briefing. Quit spreading FUD and read the linked article FFS

Re:Pilots... (1)

Minwee (522556) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435231)

Are allowed to use iPads in all phases of flight, but if I read a book on mine... It's trouble.

Pilots are also allowed to flip any switch they like in the cockpit, but for some reason they don't let the passengers do the same thing.

Re:Pilots... (1)

Chibi Merrow (226057) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435403)

Are allowed to use iPads in all phases of flight

No they're not.

burden of proof goes the other way (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434859)

The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.
Don't like it ? change the rules, but then those rules apply to everyone and everything involved in aviation, not only consumer electronic devices.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (-1)

spire3661 (1038968) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434905)

Thats all well and good, but our Governemnt doesnt work on that principle. Liberty ALWAYS comes first. The FAA needs to provide proof of their claim or shut the fuck up. Anything less is tyranny.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (4, Insightful)

PPH (736903) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434991)

Liberty ALWAYS comes first.

... he says as the TSA agent slips on that rubber glove.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435003)

In what country are you living? I thought this was the United States. Concepts like "liberty" and "burden of proof" went out the door a long time ago.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435019)

How about you prove it is safe?

Not having electronic devices is known to be safe, since planes have been flying that way for decades.

Now, you want to do something different, so it is up to YOU to show that it does not adversely affect safety. That's a fairly straightforward process, but it does cost time and money. So there are two places where that time and money come from:
1) the airlines
2) the government (i.e. you and me paying taxes)

The airlines are free to do the testing (presumably in collaboration with the airplane mfrs) and pass the cost on to you in the form of a higher ticket price. The airlines don't seem to want to do this, although they are more than willing to do the needed testing for seatback phones and entertainment, because those are more easily monetized than letting you use your electronic device.

I don't see a crying need to spend FAA budget on this, compared to other things the FAA could and should spend its money on, like improving en-route and terminal radar and overall flight operations.

As for during take off and landing.. I think they should ban the use of iPads, nooks, ereaders, music players, etc. of all types. During takeoff and landing I want passenger attention focused on following instructions in the unlikely event of a problem, not zoning out with headphones stuck in their ears.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (2)

jbolden (176878) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435191)

During takeoff and landing I want passenger attention focused on following instructions in the unlikely event of a problem, not zoning out with headphones stuck in their ears.

Then ban headphones. Though, generally if there is a problem during takeoff and landing, passengers following instructions doesn't matter too much.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435319)

There are many scenarios of problems during takeoff or landing which is eminently survivable if passengers follow the instructions in the safety briefings - an engine fire requiring an evacuation, for instance.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (2)

SavoWood (650474) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435345)

During takeoff and landing I want passenger attention focused on following instructions in the unlikely event of a problem, not zoning out with headphones stuck in their ears.

You have a few problems with this argument.

1. Headphones, or earplugs as you might call them when there's nothing playing through them, are very effective in helping you hear in a high noise situation, like a crashing aircraft with a hole in the skin.
2. Books and magazines are perfectly fine to be read during announcements, and are just as distracting as an e-reader/iPad/Kindle.

Also, there is not cumulative effect from the devices. One device causes just as much interference as 200. With typically triple-redundant (or more) systems on a commercial airliner, you're not in danger from an iPad being powered up on board. Just think how easy it would be for a terrorist to take over a plane. "Fly me to Cuba or I'l power up my iPhone!!!"

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (0)

russotto (537200) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435395)

Now, you want to do something different, so it is up to YOU to show that it does not adversely affect safety. That's a fairly straightforward process, but it does cost time and money.

No, it's impossible. Because the utility function is something like this

(increased utility due to use of devices) * (num passengers wanting to use devices) - (increased risk of crash) * (num flights) * (cost of crash)

You've got to show that this is greater than zero. But the authority-loving paternalists assign zero to the increased utility ("can't you just wait 15 minutes") while the hand-wringing nervous-nellies assign infinity to the cost of a crash, so even to get this equation to zero you have to show that the increased risk of a crash is zero -- which can't be done.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435079)

The FAA has never made a claim that electronics on a plane are bad. In fact, the FAA doesn't restrict the use of electronics at all. The rule in place (paraphrased, since I'm too lazy to look it up), is that "electronics can't be used on board unless they have been tested and shown that they won't interfere with the plane's electronics."

Any carrier could, if they wanted to, run a series of tests to demonstrate that an iPhone won't cause a crash.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435097)

What could possibly go wrong?
Personally, I can afford to not play online games or surf porn for a few hours if it makes my flight safer and annoys my fellow travelers less. Would much rather expend my anger quota railing against TSA scanning devices.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (1)

miltonw (892065) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435147)

Thats all well and good, but our Governemnt doesnt work on that principle. Liberty ALWAYS comes first. The FAA needs to provide proof of their claim or shut the fuck up. Anything less is tyranny.

"Liberty always comes first."
Are you being ironic, or are you speaking of some other government?

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (5, Insightful)

jbolden (176878) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435177)

Liberty doesn't always come first. Liberty gets balanced all the time against other interests. There wouldn't be FAA regulation of what goes on between private ticket holders and private airlines at all if liberty always came first. They would just leave it up to the airlines. The airlines don't want that though, because they don't want ultimate responsibility they want shared responsibility.

The FAA is way too cautious about safety in a rational universe. But note that every time a plane goes down and few hundred people die it makes national news, often for several days. Which means the public weighs flight deaths much more heavily than deaths from heart attack or car accidents or poor nutrition. We live in a representative democracy and the FAA is irrational because the public is.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (4, Insightful)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435001)

The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.
Don't like it ? change the rules, but then those rules apply to everyone and everything involved in aviation, not only consumer electronic devices.

If the FAA really thinks iPads, cellphones, and other devices are harmful or could be harmful, then they should treat them as such and require that the devices be stored in an RF shielded container, or that batteries be removed and held by the flight crew until it's safe to turn them back on.

The power button on my cell phone is easily pressed by accident when I stuff it in my carryon bag, so more times than not, it's turned itself on at some point after I put it in the bag. I'm sure there are dozens of cell phones on every flight tucked away in checked and carryon bags that are powered on. Ironically, if I was allowed to hold the phone in my hands during takeoff, it would not accidentally turn on. (yes, I know my 4 ounce phone could become a hazardous projectile in an emergency, but so could the 24 ounce hardback book my seatmate is reading)

If the FAA really thinks the devices may be harmful, they should treat them as harmful devices, instead of just looking the other way and ignoring them even though they know that the devices *are* in use during all phases of flight.

It's kind of like how the TSA makes people discard drinks and other liquids before going through security since they could be explosives or hazardous explosive components, yet the trash is not treated as the hazardous waste they suspect it is. If they really think that the liquids may be hazardous, then they should treat them as hazardous waste - why would they let the janitor haul out a bin full of suspected explosives?

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435329)

If the FAA really thinks iPads, cellphones, and other devices are harmful or could be harmful, then they should treat them as such and require that the devices be stored in an RF shielded container

The point is that 1 device will not do much. Everyone kind of figured that out already. But what about 200? 400? 800? 1000? And before you balk at the 1000 figure, try a fully loaded A380 and each passenger has a cell phone, tablet or computer or any combination thereof running with WiFi or talking to local microcell.

It is kind of like saying that car noise does not cause deafness because you don't go deaf with one car next to you (like 2m away). Now, put 800 cars running within the same distance and you'd probably not like the 80-100dB from each car anymore. Hell, just a few NASCAR cars running around the track at a distance is loud enough!

Yeah, I know. Spoiled kids want their toys. Once it is showed that measured that 1000 devices CANNOT cause harm to plane's electronics, then you'll get your toys. Until then, rules apply that make your device's battery last longer. ;)

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (4, Interesting)

plover (150551) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435357)

If they really think that the liquids may be hazardous, then they should treat them as hazardous waste - why would they let the janitor haul out a bin full of suspected explosives?

That's the part that always gets me. If they believed to even 0.001% of a chance that the bottle of water I'm drinking from is a potentially explosive material, would they really tolerate having me toss it in a plastic garbage can next to them?

If they're going to perform Mystery Security Theater 3000 and want us to believe in it, they should at least make sure that Tom Servo is reading from the same script.

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435033)

The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.

You can't prove a negative. This is as ridiculous as the TSA smurf patrol

Re:burden of proof goes the other way (5, Insightful)

Citizen of Earth (569446) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435245)

That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.

It has been proven. Consider that 90% of flyers have a cell phone and 20% of them on every flight either forget to or refuse to turn off their transmission functions. (It's not like the stewards actually check this.) So, we have millions of experiments every year and not one single adverse effect. I doubt many other flight-safety regulations receive this level of testing.

Network Neutrality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434861)

And yet everyone here will exclaim vociferously and vehemently that we need the government to enforce network neutrality.

So which one is it? Should the government create and enforce laws about the internet or not?

Re:Network Neutrality (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434953)

"FAA" and "Government" are not synonyms.

The FAA has a distinctly different reputation, M.O., and set of priorities then, say, the FCC. You know, the people who would actually be regulating the internet.

Re:Network Neutrality (3, Funny)

Minwee (522556) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435247)

The FAA has a distinctly different reputation, M.O., and set of priorities then, say, the FCC.

Is there an FBB which is somewhere in between the two?

Re:Network Neutrality (1)

miltonw (892065) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435121)

So which one is it? Should the government create and enforce laws about the internet or not?

Yes.

Re:Network Neutrality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435259)

Or no.

Re:Network Neutrality (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435289)

It depends. Are they going to all-in or hands off. This halfway stuff is crap. Giving special treatment to one ISP while actively preventing a new ISP from competing via lockout is hurting most of us for the favored few.

Even if there is no effect whatsoever (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434867)

I don't want to spend the flight time in the inevitable cacophony of the most mundane and trivial conversations.

but (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434877)

the first plane crash after devices are allowed and people will change their tune real fast.

wanna bet??? (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434965)

I would bet anybody here that there is currently RIGHT NOW a nonzero number of cell phones current in normal mode in flight (on commercial aircraft) BONUS BET there is currently at least one person on a cell phone equipped aircraft reading/posting to Slashdot RIGHT NOW

Re:but (1)

plover (150551) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434969)

the first plane crash after devices are allowed and people will change their tune real fast.

That's true - if you have a "shake phone to pick next song in playlist", I suspect the impact of the crash would trigger your phone's accelerometer and could change to the next tune even before the wreckage came to a halt.

If that's not changing your tune fast, I don't think I could come up with a better example.

Re:but (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435017)

Nonsense, I'm currently operating my phone in an airplane and everything is f

Re:but (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435239)

the first plane crash after devices are allowed and people will change their tune real fast.

Yeah, I'd change my tune to "Why in the h*ll didn't the FAA require enough Avionics shielding to prevent a 300mW transmitter from taking down a plane?" It wouldn't be hard to turn a laptop into a 30 watt transmitter, equivalent to 100 phones - the electronics would fit within the hard drive and optical drive bays (with an mSATA drive to make sure the computer is bootable), a typical 85 watt-hour laptop battery could easily power the transmitter for an hour or longer.

As much as I don't want a regulated Internet... (4, Insightful)

dyingtolive (1393037) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434883)

...this is kind of like saying "Since this one agency is finicky about technology, government regulation is ineffective and outdated. As such, the government shouldn't regulate medicine!"

Re:As much as I don't want a regulated Internet... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434925)

The article links to "The Anarcho-capitalism Blog", which links to a NY Times article that has fuckall to do with Internet regulation.

Just another symptom of Slashdot going downhill. The editors don't mind trolling, and a bunch of teenage anarchists in the commentariat just eat this stuff up.

Re:As much as I don't want a regulated Internet... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435133)

The Internet is quite different from flying airplanes, medicine, building cars, running large factories etc.
All those activities are high risk and at the same time there are big incentive to cut corners (after all those crash test dummies are not free...).
On the other hand, there are very few ways that the internet can kill you. So there is very little reason to create regulations for the internet as it is mostly harmless (even though some people blame suicides, purchase of fake medications and other physical world problems on the internet).
So it seems to be that your medicine analogy is quite flawed.

Just because one agency (0)

falcon5768 (629591) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434885)

Is run by a bunch of morons who dont know anything about science doesn't mean all government agencies run like that. In fact many are run very efficiently, which is why when strives to privatize things are done they almost always end in being inefficient and always costing the government and the people massive amounts of money more than they would have had they remained government managed. Examples on a small scale would be public works and DMVs where when outsourced to private companies they have always ended up in being horribly cost ineffective and terribly run (NJ's privative DMV was so terrible that only in re-taking it over as the MVC did it become an effective organization again and lines go from 5-6 hours to 20-30 minutes max) On a large scale you have little else to look than the USPS which is only leaking money thanks to medaling by Republicans forcing them to pay for the pension and benefits of employees not even conceived yet. That being said no government should ever regulate the internet. So while the argument is stupid and pointless, the truth is still the same.

Re:Just because one agency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434967)

and in general the FAA is irreplaceable. image what would happen to safety, access, and competition if it were a market free for all

Unhelpful article (5, Insightful)

plover (150551) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434903)

The blog uses a lot of charged words without saying anything of value. "Rules bad. Regulations bad. FAA dumb." And somehow this translates directly into "regulating the Internet is doomed to fail."

First, I completely disagree with the "FAA dumb" comment. The FAA may be cautious, yes, but their mandate is aircraft safety -- it's their job to be cautious. I don't disagree with the other sentiments, but there is no logical argument put forth that explains why the rules are bad, why the regulations fail, or why the approach taken by an agency whose job is human safety (and not human convenience) will somehow doom the internet.

Re:Unhelpful article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435105)

The FAA may be cautious, yes, but their mandate is aircraft safety -- it's their job to be cautious.

Their mandate is airline PROFITS. The FAA comes down on anyone on in a "red team" (basically, their pen testers) that actually tries hard to get guns past security. For example, hiding a gun in any place other than an "approved" hiding spot makes the test unfair.

Re:Unhelpful article (1)

jbolden (176878) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435297)

Even if your only concern is safety, one thing that definitely interferes with safety is a developing practice of people considering airline regulation too onerous and ignoring / circumventing it. If we reach a point where even 15% of the public supports just breaking the rules the FAA has serious problems. Their odds of being about to get 12 people to convict on smoking in the bathroom or using a cell phone or carrying liquids on a plane in your underwear or... diminish. And their ability to effectively regulate falls.

Moreover, I think you are wrong on a matter of fact here. Their mandate isn't just safety it is also the health and growth of the airline industry. One of the things that interferes with that health and growth is flights being unpleasant experiences for the customers. And flights have gotten much much worse (though much much cheaper) over the last generation.

The issue is, at least for the US Senate which has raised this issue, whether they need a broader mandate. The existence and popularity of skiing and hunting prove that not all Americans weigh safety as highly as the FAA does.

Re:Unhelpful article (3, Funny)

tweak13 (1171627) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435351)

This is exactly what I was thinking. It's the FAA's job to keep planes flying and keep the people on them safe. It sure as hell is not their job to promote internet usage.

Basically the article is saying: "When you arbitrarily assign a job to a government agency, they're not very effective." Wow, I'm so glad that got cleared up. I was about ready to tell the local water works that they need to get me faster internet speeds.

The proof is inverted in an airplane (4, Insightful)

stox (131684) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434907)

There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (2)

Rob Kaper (5960) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434941)

There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

You are allowed to bring them on board. That's all the proof you need.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435201)

You are allowed to bring them on board. That's all the proof you need.

Exactly.

On one hand, I can understand the paranoia and hatred of untested devices. People lose their shit when large numbers of casualties happen at one time. Plane crashes. 9/11. Random school shootings. This is in spite of the fact that other things cause far, far, far more death and devastation - obesity, alcohol, cars, smoking. But those deaths, despite greatly outnumbering "OH NOES!" incidents - come one at a time, and aren't media/scaremongering worthy.

One could easily imagine the reaction if some kid's Nintendo DS brought down a plane. The FAA would be nailed to the wall and shot repeatedly, in non-lethal locations, before the rabble of public opinion bought out Morton and dumped a few billion pounds of salt all over the wounds.

Yet we know they're not actually worried about this - because I've yet to see anyone fined, removed from a flight, arrested, or put on a watch list for dicking about with their cell phones during take off or landing.

I suspect, as an AC above pointed out - this isn't about safety, it's about profit. If you're busy with your electronics, you can't hear the nice stewardess whining about signing up for a rewards credit card.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (1)

krakelohm (830589) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434943)

I agree and I think that it probably causes no issues. What is funny is that people are getting that pissy over not being able to use something for 15 minutes at the start and 15 minutes at the end of a flight... really this is an overblown non-issue.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (2)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435095)

I agree and I think that it probably causes no issues. What is funny is that people are getting that pissy over not being able to use something for 15 minutes at the start and 15 minutes at the end of a flight... really this is an overblown non-issue.

There are 730M air passengers in the USA each year.

If just 10% or 73M of them want to use their mobile device during takeoff/landing, that's 36M hours of time taken away without any apparent reason. If the average air passenger's time is valued at $20/hour, that's $730M of productivity (or leisure time) taken away.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435265)

If just 1 % of those 36M hours of time were being used for anything other than twitter, facebook, music/movie streaming, slashdot? or angrybirds/wordswithfriends, I would be shocked. Productivity can wait for 15 minutes. And just how exactly would a passenger's _leisure_time_ be valued at $20 an hour? You lumped productivity/leisure time together for a cost analysis? If you choose to fly, there is an opportunity cost. If you don't like not being able to use your devices for brief periods - drive, take a bus or take a train.

FWIW, I think they will eventually change the regulations, and it does inconvenience me often - but it really IS an overblown issue - regardless of whatever made up cost you associate with it.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (1)

hawguy (1600213) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435311)

If just 1 % of those 36M hours of time were being used for anything other than twitter, facebook, music/movie streaming, slashdot? or angrybirds/wordswithfriends, I would be shocked. Productivity can wait for 15 minutes. And just how exactly would a passenger's _leisure_time_ be valued at $20 an hour? You lumped productivity/leisure time together for a cost analysis? If you choose to fly, there is an opportunity cost. If you don't like not being able to use your devices for brief periods - drive, take a bus or take a train.

FWIW, I think they will eventually change the regulations, and it does inconvenience me often - but it really IS an overblown issue - regardless of whatever made up cost you associate with it.

How people choose to spend their leisure time shouldn't really be your concern (or the FAA's). If people feel more relaxed and satisfied playing Angry Birds than staring at the seatback in front of them, what's the problem with that?

I know, $20 is pretty low for leisure time -- I value my leisure time at twice my regular salary.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (1)

krakelohm (830589) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435321)

that's $730M of productivity (or leisure time) taken away.

That is not time that was taken away, that is time you never had to play/work with you gadgets. I agree if there is no viable reason it should be allowed but this is not something we were able to do and then it was taken away. This is $730M of productivity or leisure time you did not have.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (1)

trdrstv (986999) | about a year and a half ago | (#42434983)

They don't hurt the Avionics they hurt the Pilots. [penny-arcade.com]

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435083)

There are no checks for powered on electroincs in checked luggage. If your assessment is correct, wouldn't there be?

I am skeptical that avionics protection is the true reason for the rule given that even in the passenger cabin a flight attendant is required to take you at your word that you've actually turned off a device. I would bet that they originally made the rule based on FUD or some reason other than avionics interference, and now can't be seen to backtrack without some kind of political cover.

CAPTCHA unworthy

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435197)

I have literally never once turned off my electronic devices, and I fly all the time. Cell phone, tablet, laptop--never turned them off once or so much as put them in 'Airplane Mode'.

As a poster below said, the mere fact we can use them shortly after takeoff is reason enough to believe they do no harm.

Re:The proof is inverted in an airplane (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435347)

There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

This is absolutely true. There is a technical answer to this question which needs to be and can be answered through a combination of analysis and testing. From my experience with EMI on satellites, the electronics must be designed taking into account the RF environment. Even then, testing is required since there are many paths for interference and in this case the sources are uncontrolled. I can easily see how the boom in personal electronics may have caught the airline industry off guard but I would think it would have been accounted for by now. I hope they take care of this soon.

planes don't fall from the sky every day. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434929)

politics fucks up things though. We are about to have a bunch of drones crashing into things because a bunch of right-wing authoritarians want to turn the country into a police state (right-wing apparently believes that government is only good if used to oppress/kill others).

Not too clear on avionics are we? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434933)

Avionics are safety critical. Is playing with electronic toys that important to you?

Maybe you should pause from your obsession with continuous entertainment to think. That's the stuff some people do when they're not being entertained.

Better safe than sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434935)

"The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics" - but until it can be proved electronic devices WON'T harm a planes avionics isn't it better to avoid using them?

nice summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434937)

I would like to thank samzenpus and cathyreisenwitz for this fair and balanced summary.

I want the flight to be safe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434949)

That you are inconvenienced with your electronics device isn't even on my list of things I care about on a flight.

I would suggest their stone age priorities at least are a sensible order of priorities. Meanwhile, your list of priorities is juvenile, superficial and clueless.

BIG IF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42434993)

IF a plane could just pull over to the side of the road if their electronics were borked, I might say that the government is being too cautious. That's not the case, though. If their electronics get scrambled, the nearest stop is 5 miles straight down at terminal velocity.

It's called CYA (2, Insightful)

alen (225700) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435013)

Cover your ass

I learned about it in high school

The whiners are whining now but if there is an accident and the smallest shed of a hypothesis that someone's iPhone or droid caused the crash during takeoff or landing the same media and whiners will be calling for everyone to be fired for allowing it

FCC, not FAA (5, Informative)

zerotorr (729953) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435029)

While the FAA has rules regarding electronics usage, cell phones in airplanes are covered specifically by the FCC. The FCC bans them because of the tax it would put on the system with thousands of cell phones switching cell towers much more rapidly then if those same phones were driving. They were worried about the significant overhead this would cause the cell system. While I've seen and heard many people complain about how much they don't believe that their phones would interfere with any avionics in any way, and they should be allowed to use them, I've never seen anyone address this specifically. What bothers me even more is that I've heard so many people complain about this, yet a simple wiki search reveals the actual reasoning behind the ban. I'm not saying it's justified or not, but if you're going to complain about something, at least don't be ignorant about it. Even if they didn't interfere with the airplane, there's more to it than that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft [wikipedia.org] specifically- United States: To prevent disruption to the cell phone network from the effects of fast-moving cell phones at altitude (see discussion below), the FCC has banned the use of cell phones on all aircraft in flight.

Re:FCC, not FAA (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435429)

It's not the rate at which they'd be switching towers, its the fact that they could see multiple towers operating on the same channels. Something that can't happen on the ground.

Government can't do anything right (0)

Skapare (16644) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435047)

.. simply because REPUBLICANS have sabotaged it. The FAA, for example, does not have the funding it needs to really research this. So caution in favor of people's lives is the only remaining choice. Just look where this article is from.

I'm curious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435055)

What would be the penalty if they found out that I do not put my phone in "airplane" mode or otherwise disable it when on a flight?

Re:I'm curious (1)

rjr3 (658693) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435219)

you would lose your ability to fly for 5 years.

wait the 15 minutes. It may be your ass I have to climb over on the way out of the plane.

Err on the side of caution ... bad? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435059)

I have never heard of erring on the side of caution as being a really bad thing. Now if you want to argue the effectiveness of TSA I will stand up and protest with you, but to be overly cautious about electronic devices on take off and landing doesn't seems overly infringing on my time or liberties. So I am asked to power off a device -- or just to not use it for a total of 15 minutes of a flight. This is your fight?? Fight not to get irradiated trying to board a plane. Fight for your children to not get used to being suspected of carrying a bomb. Fight for your elderly right, fight for our sons and daughters to come home from war.

I am not going to fight to use a toy on a plane for 15 more minutes.

Passenger Safety Threatened (1)

asynchronous13 (615600) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435087)

Yet allowing in-flight devices and seeing passenger safety threatened as a result could threaten funding, power, and end several promising bureaucratic careers.

Sure, maybe they only care about losing funding. But maybe, just maybe they care about that whole passenger safety thing.

Don't blame government (3, Insightful)

Enry (630) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435119)

AT&T was convinced that circuit switching (rather than packet switching) was the way to go. It took DARPA (you know, the government) years to convince them otherwise, in some cases going behind their backs to do so. They also spent decades telling people that only AT&T equipment can be installed in their homes, and there's no way you can use your own phone since it may damage their circuitry.

Don't think that only government comes up with crappy rules.

Ask a A+P mechanic (2)

vlm (69642) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435125)

The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

That's weird. Just ask an A+P mechanic who's had to track down weird interference problems on a plane.

Also its just gossip but most pilot lounges have had an informal conversation or two along the lines of "fly over that tower and your avionics get weird"

The killer is stuff like ancient NDB/ADF radios... as long as there's a published ILS NDB approach in the entire USA airspace, you'll be stuck with what amounts to AM radio avionics on planes which are pretty good at hearing interference. Its possible, although hard, to mess up a VOR rx. I'm guessing VHF FM land mobile hand held radios (like, police and fire radios) are never going to be permitted on flying aircraft unless permanently installed and tested. GPS seems pretty hard to jam, but now you've got a single point of failure. Maybe a GPS, glosnass, and galileo triple stack of satnav would be approved, in a couple decades. Maybe.

The FCC is uninterested in REALLY enforcing unintentional radiator regulations. Once in a while for a political stunt. The most /. famous story I can think of was the original class A rated TRS-80 model I being sold to class B residential users, that thing was so electrically noisy that the 'Shack gave up and released the model III instead of trying to patch up the model I. If they really enforced standards, then maybe the FAA could do some EMC/EMI work to prove a VOR rx cannot be interfered with, etc. But they don't, and there's a world full of noisy junk as any HF ham radio operator will attest, so...

backwards (4, Insightful)

Tom (822) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435157)

I think you got that backwards.

The FAA does not have to prove that mobile devices endanger aircraft electronics. Those whose manufacture or those who want to use those devices on a plane need to prove that it doesn't.

Yes, I know that some people get a heart attack if they can't check their e-mail, FB and Twitter for 20 seconds, but last time I checked, we all agree that "default deny" is the proper firewall policy. So with all security systems. If you don't know something is harmless, you need to treat it as a potential danger, until it is proven to be safe.

And when a mistake can kill a few hundred people, you err on the side of caution. Always.

Danged expensive... (1)

Archfeld (6757) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435167)

Let apple/samsung/microsoft foot the bill for a test plane and a bunch of devices. Certification for a life or death application should be VERY DIFFICULT, as far as I am concerned it is hard to be TOO conservative at 37000 ft. travelling 300 + mph. Besides what could possibly be so important that you couldn't wait till you landed ?

malware on a plane (1)

tbonefrog (739501) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435171)

hopefully the malware will be called 'snakes'. people are already spoofing GPS, and countermeasures which don't require new satellites are not too good.

actually if i was going to bring down a plane i would prefer to do it from a nice apartment near the end of a runway, or better yet a parking garage. that way i could watch or tweet the crash without having to sacrifice much on my end.

the guy who crashed his plane into the austin irs office a few years ago could have just as easily rigged the plane up to fly pilotless if he had waited a few years. 'fly the friendly skies.'

let's not regulate the internet. let's instead try to retrofit every piece of hardware on the internet to handle a vastly messy solution to the ip address exhaustion problem, called ipv6, which has in its favor that it is very expensive, is now and will create more security holes than it fixes, and solves a problem that could have been solved much more easily at the ISP level without everyone needing to change all their stuff out. Damn the government for thinking up ipv6! What? It was designed by academics and hardware vendors? Not the government? Well damn the government for letting them do this anyway!

The argument against regulation ... (1)

rogerz (78608) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435187)

... is NOT that "because some government regulations are unfounded, all of their regulations will be so.". The argument against regulations in general is that they punish innocent people (by restricting their liberty) without proof that the regulated activity will harm anyone. This is distinguished from objectively-defined law, where:

a) the restricted activity (in the case of good law) is a violation of someone's rights.
b) the violation must be proved in court (including civil court).

So, to choose an example I know will piss off many slashdotters, regulation of "air pollutants" is not a valid exercise of government power, since this punishes people that might emit a certain quantity of some substance, without proof that such emissions will actually harm someone. We already have laws against polluting other people's property - if someone can be proved to be doing so, they should be punished. And, if someone believes that they are going to be harmed by emissions that have yet to occur, they can even go to civil court and present merely a preponderance of evidence that this harm will ensue in order to receive relief, including injunctive relieve to prevent the activity, That is the valid operation of coercive government power - to prevent objectively definable rights violations, not to pander to people's imagined fears.

In the case of the FAA device regulations, the issue is even more clear cut - the FAA should have nothing to say at all about what devices a private airline allows to be used on its planes. That should be the decision of the airline, and they can base this decision on what they consider to be the appropriate tradeoff between safety and passenger convenience. Then, passengers could decide how they feel about a given airline's policy, and this could be factored into their patronage decision. True, this requires that passengers would need to exercise some adult judgment in their choice of airlines. Oh, the horror. Such is part of the price of liberty.

I asked an aircraft electronics expert... (2)

MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435205)

I just RTFA. So “Cathy” says the FAA is dumb. OK. She doesn’t supply a last name, so I’m not sure that inspires confidence.
I once had a rather large aircraft manufacturer as a client. I asked one of the engineers about the cell-phones-off policy. He gave me several insights that were rather interesting.

One of the functions of his group is to customize aircraft with electronic devices used by government agencies. As part of that, they had to insure such devices would not interfere with the aircraft control and navigation systems – and they found minor changes in position would greatly affect the results. It turns out putting all that gear inside a metal tube creates all sorts of reflections and other fun stuff. He was of the opinion that some combination of cell phone quantities and positions would surely create an issue. Just because we get away with it does not mean it won’t happen.

This is outside my field, and he might be totally wrong. But I thought I should share a data point.

Many articles get this wrong (1)

surfdaddy (930829) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435271)

The FAA's position is that unless proven otherwise, it is assumed that electrical devices should be assumed to be dangerous. The original posts comment of "those devices haven't been proven to be dangerous" is ass-backwards. Do you really want to fly with things that *might* be dangerous, but haven't yet been *proven* dangerous? The problem is that the FAA is following the laws as now written. Each airline is responsible to "prove" that EACH model of device is SAFE before it is allowed to be used. Clearly that's a complexity and cost that isn't going to happen.

Given all that, I think we all know that most devices aren't going to be a problem. It seems that a change in the regulations is in order. Perhaps during certification of the aircraft, there should be some test of electronic shielding between the avionics and a wide variety of common passenger electronics located in passenger areas. But the FAA is pretty much powerless to change their stand unless the underlying regulations are modified.

Have You Seen Interference's Effects? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435275)

I have. The lab I work in has signs posted on all the data acquisition cabinets based on experience. We do airplane flight controls stuff there. The place I used to work, I'll just say it was a mission critical sort of place, I watched my Motorola radio drive a piece of equipment batshit. I was on the radio saying "This generator is acting all funky. Oh hey there it goes again." After a few clicks of the talk button on my radio I figured it out.

It's not the sort of thing you want to happen at 30,000 feet. The rule is a good rule.

Regards,
Jason C. Wells

does NOT spread irrational fear (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435299)

Because people are a) too stupid to understand RF interference, b) they know its bullshit, or c) don't understand English.

No Problem with MILAIR (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42435307)

Last time I flew on a C-130 (January, I believe) we surfed, txt'd, listened to music, etc the entire time through taxi, takeoff, level flight, and landing and the plane did not fall out of the sky in an uncontrolled fashion. There was also no "Fasten Seatbelt" light everytime we hit even the smallest patch of turbulence either. In fact here was no seatbelt light at all. The loadmaster simply said when you see me buckled up, you should be, too. When you see me up, feel free to walk around as well. Kinda nice being treated like an adult again while flying.

Where Do I Begin? (1)

seepho (1959226) | about a year and a half ago | (#42435325)

The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.

The null hypothesis here is that electronic devices may or may not harm a plane's avionics. The FAA is taking the safe approach and not allowing those devices to be used during takeoff and landing. The author, however, is attempting to assert that electronics do not harm a plane's avionics. Unless one can come up with a way to prove all electronics will not harm a plane's avionics, I don't think the FAA should change its opinion on the matter.

The rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious.

When trying to argue in favor of Net Neutrality, I'd hear this one a lot. "The FCC wants Net Neutrality. This is the same FCC that fines networks for showing part of a breast during the Superbowl. Therefore, Net Neutrality is bad." I always wondered why people weren't embarrassed to be told that they've made a fallacious argument; but by the same logic they applied to Net Neutrality, I guess they just assume that if the New York Times does it, it must be OK.

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