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The Real Hazards of E-Devices on Planes (bits.blogs.nytimes.com)
42 points by 001sky 1573 days ago | hide | past | web | 87 comments | favorite



I found this 2005 paper from NASA's Langley Research Center [1]. The report says that the data "confirms this expectation [of interference] with alarming clarity", though it is completely based off crew reports attributing a problem to a device in use. It also uses data from 1986-1999, both airplanes and devices have improved a lot since.

In addition, most of the incidents in the annual report on electronic devices [2] are of the kind "passenger X refused to turn off his mobile phone / [random problem here] crew suspects passenger in the bathroom using his laptop as culprit".

Why can't gov. agencies or airplane manufacturers create an test that mimicks real-world conditions and put a definitive end to the question?

[1] http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/2005023...

[2] http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/docs/rpsts/ped.pdf


Why can't gov. agencies or airplane manufacturers create an test that mimicks real-world conditions and put a definitive end to the question?

Agreed. Just to a broadband jamming experiment to see what leaks in. A mil-spec style shielding might be expensive (this is the argument a pilot made to me- as if planes are cheap), but we could at least test, and possibly approve some designs.

OTOH, turning off devices for a few minutes isn't really a big concern for me. But I dislike the "it's ok to be ignorant" attitude by the rule-makers.


The FAA is being ridiculous about this.

However...there's literally nothing I find more aggravating than flying - because of other passengers. Every flight, there's always a handful of people who refuse to follow the simple rules. Their carry-on is too big. They switch seats or use the lavatories when they are supposed to be seated and buckled-in. They don't re-adjust their seats when landing. They grab their carry-on while the plane is taxiing.

I always feel horrible for the flight attendants. It feels like they are running a day care. Why are people like that? Are they stupid and don't understand the rules? Or do they think the rules don't apply to them?


Getting out of your seat on a taxiway is a bad idea. Planes do occasionally bump into one another. How'd you like to be standing up looking for your carry-on inside this CRJ when this happens:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayCWSm1f9qk


"I always feel horrible for the flight attendants. It feels like they are running a day care. Why are people like that? Are they stupid and don't understand the rules? Or do they think the rules don't apply to them?"

My wife is a flight attendant and she defenately feels like she is running a day care. She says it has gotten progressively worse each year.

It does seem to be regional though. She has some flights where the people are always nice and some(Pittsburg) where the people are always rude.


Pilots should do a barrel roll every now and then to catch seat-belt-sign-ignorers out.


Most large planes aren't designed to do aerobatic maneuvers. Doing a barrel roll could rip off pieces from the control surfaces, cause an engine to separate, or tear off an entire wing. That's assuming the flight control software will let you try that in the first place.


Barrel rolls are low G maneuvers so properly executed they shouldn't cause any of those things. My memory had the barrel roll as a 1G maneuver but wikipedia tells me it gets up to 2-3g (probably to enter/exit the maneuver). Were you thinking of an aileron roll?

I mean, if a 707 could do it safely in 1955[1] modern airliners should do just fine.

(not that I support routine barrel rolls on airliners...)

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaA7kPfC5Hk


You're right, I was thinking of an aileron roll. A barrel roll is definitely doable.


Yeah it pisses me off when people don't follow those rules. None of the rule is even remotely annoying, but when not followed, annoys everybody else.

Besides, most of those are actually useful. When you take the plane enough times, there's always one that will shake very heavily without warning due to unexpected turbulences that the stabilization software couldn't counter and pilots didn't foresee.

Heck during those, all the stuff flies around and if you're walking around (or even sitted without seat bealt) you wont only hurt yourself but others as well.


Modus operandi for many people is to get away with whatever you can until you're told otherwise (or caught). Just most do this with petty things versus breaking major laws.


I agree with the rest, but the lavatory sometimes can't be helped. I've been there.


> Why are people like that? Are they stupid and don't understand the rules? Or do they think the rules don't apply to them?

Speaking for myself, I have no respect for authority that does not stem from experience, knowledge, wisdom, etc. Air hosts/hostesses have none of those attributes - they are merely parrotting rules handed down to them, without putting any thought into them.

A case in point is the electronic devices rule - clearly nonsensical and stupid. I take it as a good sample of the sense in the other rules being imposed, and therefore revert to my default mode of operation, that applies in most circumstances, unless overridden by someone who appears to deserve to have the power to tell me what to do. In other words, I do what I think is sensible, reasonable.

Therefore, yes, I do check my emails before the plane has finished moving and even (gosh!) before the passport gates. I do grab my bag at the first opportunity (though it's usually pointless to do so before the plane has stopped moving - but then it's reason that's stopping me, not rules). I do fit as much as I can get away with into my bag (which generally weighs more than 5kg - but is usually compact and easy to stow because I value those attributes).

In other words, I act like the free, responsible human being that I am, and no, I don't care one whit for "the rules" except where I have analysed them and deemed them sensible myself.

Here's some good news for you: "the rules" don't apply to you either - not unless you want them to.


And this is why we can't have nice things. "The rules," as you so aptly scare-quote, are not there solely to govern the actions of a single human being. They are there so that the system, as a whole, functions. A word exists for this: society. Unless the rule is unjust, you are not the final arbiter of whether or not a rule should be followed. What you find sensible and reasonable may not actually _be_ sensible and reasonable beyond first glance.

Yes, this rule appears to be monumentally stupid. However, another person in this very thread has raised a good (though possibly misinformed) point regarding frequency intermod. Sometimes we simply can't test all circumstances and the FAA has made a (potentially dumb) judgement call in favor of overwhelming paranoia for safety instead of letting people fling colored birds at green pigs below 10,000 feet.

Being free does not give you license to discard that which you, in your own self, deem insensible when you are existing in a space where anyone but yourself exists. You operate in a world with billions of other humans, each with competing goals and diverging motivations. The least you can do is play by the rules that we, as a group, have decided are the compromise.

As a bit of site commentary, I notice your post getting more and more grey as people remove points because they disagree. In this instance, I added a point because, though I disagree, I think that your post is a useful addition to the commentary.


I'd personally love it if society had more people like swombat, rather than fewer.

Of course, there is a risk when choosing to ignore rules that you are ignoring them because they you are an inconvenience to you but are generally good for society. Government incented/enforced vaccination would be a good example of such a reasonable though possibly annoying rule. I totally concede that point, and hence, individuals need to be especially mindful about their own self serving biases when choosing to disobey rules.

But on the other hand, imagine if rules that effected tens of millions of people all had scientific studies about their tradeoffs, their risks, and their efficiency. How much less bullshit would we have to deal with?

I think lots of big innovation is done by rule breakers. It's exactly what pg talks about in point 4 about wanting founders who are naughty.

[1] http://www.paulgraham.com/founders.html


> I'd personally love it if society had more people like swombat, rather than fewer.

You might feel differently if you lived next to a rule breaker who had no concept of noise nuisance.

"The Collector Collector" (Tibor Fischer) is a fun read; relevant here because he describes quite nicely the sense of entitlement that some criminals feel.


> You might feel differently if you lived next to a rule breaker who had no concept of noise nuisance.

I'm sure he would. As it happens, I am not typically a noise creator - but you are, today, downvoting my post and then replying to it within a minute of me posting it. I've kindly returned the favour.


I did not down the post you replied to. I did downvote the your post that first replied to. I up voted the post where you said that you're not rude to airline staff.

EDIT:

> replying to it within a minute of me posting

Timestamps disagree with you.


s/a minute/a few minutes/


> "The rules," as you so aptly scare-quote, are not there solely to govern the actions of a single human being. They are there so that the system, as a whole, functions. A word exists for this: society.

That's an interesting equation there. Society = rules? I don't agree with you. Society = agreements. Generally agreements are two-sided. The kind of society where rules are decided by some nebulous organisation that does not respond to argument or criticism and expects everyone to follow them blindly is certainly not a society I wish to partake in.

Being free does not give you license to discard that which you, in your own self, deem insensible when you are existing in a space where anyone but yourself exists. You operate in a world with billions of other humans, each with competing goals and diverging motivations.

None of my actions are impinging on the freedom of others. Of course, my freedom to move my fist stops where the next person's nose begins - but I have not, in my original post, made any suggestions that I would do something that would hurt someone else.

The least you can do is play by the rules that we, as a group, have decided are the compromise.

I think a simple invocation of Godwin's law will demonstrate how retarded this point is. HELLO! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU HAVE A BRAIN! YOU DO NOT, EVER, HAVE THE EXCUSE OF SAYING "WELL, THAT WAS AGREED BY OTHERS".

Either that, or you're not a free human being. Your choice, in either case.

As a bit of site commentary, I notice your post getting more and more grey as people remove points because they disagree. In this instance, I added a point because, though I disagree, I think that your post is a useful addition to the commentary.

Thank you. That is sensible behaviour that, incidentally, contradicts your point about rule. Clearly the majority of people who voted on this issue also felt that I deserved to be downvoted. Why you decided to go against the obvious rule of the crowd is beyond me, but I am nevertheless grateful!


> I think a simple invocation of Godwin's law will demonstrate how retarded this point is. HELLO! YOU ARE A HUMAN BEING! YOU HAVE A BRAIN! YOU DO NOT, EVER, HAVE THE EXCUSE OF SAYING "WELL, THAT WAS AGREED BY OTHERS".

You left out the quote where I said "[u]nless the rule is unjust." Yes, this does undermine my point somewhat because I'm asking each individual to make a judgement call. I do ask that the level be moved well above "inconvenient to me" towards "bad for society." Mass holocaust? Bad for society, probably shouldn't follow that rule. Turn off your mobile phone because it may reduce the risk of firey death for 170+ people? Good for society, probably should follow that rule.

Nothing I posit takes away your capacity to make decisions. If you can't or won't follow the just rules, as given, then don't partake of whatever requires those rules and, should you feel that passionate, campaign to change those rules. Having 85% of the people following the rules and 15% abusing the system by not following them is neither fair nor equitable. It does serve to desensitize adherence to society in the future.


"Turn off your mobile phone because it may reduce the risk of firey death for 170+ people? "

Does it really?


"Air hosts/hostesses have none of those attributes - they are merely parrotting rules handed down to them, without putting any thought into them."

Seriously? They're required to "parrot" the rules; it's their job. If they didn't do so there would probably be even more disrespectful people like you on the plane. They ask very little of you as a passenger; you can still be "free and responsible" without acting like simple rules don't apply to you.


I'm not sure where this meme that I'm openly flaunting the rules and being rude came from. I just said I make my own choice about whether to follow the rules, not that I act rudely. If politely asked to do something that seems halfway sensible and is not a major inconvenience or problem, by another fellow human being (flight attendant or not), I will of course do the polite thing.


> Speaking for myself, I have no respect for authority that does not stem from experience, knowledge, wisdom, etc. Air hosts/hostesses have none of those attributes..

s/no respect for authority.../no respect/

Flight attendants have experience of being flight attendants, moreso than you I assume, and they're doing the job they're paid to do (which is in part to enforce those rules).


Flight attendants will have encountered turbulence.

Most of them will have seen a major injury because someone didn't have their seat belt on when they were instructed to (usually due to turbulence). Not to mention countless minor injuries.

Most will have experienced sudden stops or changes in direction whilst taxi-ing. Most will have seen passengers luggage fall on to other passengers because they got up too soon.

They have experience, they all have basic aviation knowledge, a lot of first aid knowledge. The grandfather post is disappointing from swombat.


Funnily enough, those are all things I don't do. I keep my seatbelt on during the flight, and I don't actually pick up my bag during taxying because it's pointless (there's a long wait after the plane stops anyway). And, as pointed out elsewhere, when asked something directly by an attendant, I do it, out of politeness if nothing else.

How many flight attendants have observed a plane crashing because of an iPhone? Zero.

I have no respect for those kinds orders, for which they have no authority except that handed down by an organisation that has proven relatively stupid when it comes to that topic.


I have plenty of respect for flight attendants, actually. I actually do wear my seatbelt through the whole flight, and will of course do whatever they directly order me to. I am polite to a fault, and would never get angry at a flight attendant even if they walk past and ask me to "turn off my kindle".

So, yes, I do respect flight attendants, as people.

With that out of the way, I don't respect their authority to decide whether a kindle can interfere with aircraft electronics. So I disregard their suggestion to that effect, I have no respect for their authority to make that suggestion. Of course, I still put my kindle away when asked to, but I know I'm being asked to do something nonsensical and every fiber of me, as a free human being, is annoyed by the stupidity of it, and although I respect the request from another human out of politeness, I do not respect the authority behind that rule.


> and would never get angry at a flight attendant even if they walk past and ask me to "turn off my kindle".

Kindles can be turned off; they also have an airplane mode. Kindles can send and receive WIFI and sometimes 3G traffic. Kindles are electronic devices.

Perhaps the rules are dumb but at least they're consistently dumb.

> So, yes, I do respect flight attendants, as people.

Okay, that's something you should probably have mentioned earlier.

> I don't respect their authority to decide whether a kindle can interfere with aircraft electronics.

They don't have the authority - that's the point. They merely enforce the (potentially dumb) rules given to them. The consequences to them and their employers for not enforcing the rules are severe. They might lose their job. Their company might be fined.

In general you don't want people to need to make assessments. Otherwise you get Ann saying it's fine for your kindle to be in sleep mode and Bob telling you you're going to be taken off the plane unless you turn it off. And if you do give these people that power you also need to give them the training, and the wage rise for the increased responsibility. That cost goes directly to you when you buy a ticket.


Kindles can be turned off; they also have an airplane mode. Kindles can send and receive WIFI and sometimes 3G traffic. Kindles are electronic devices.

Yeah, and most Kindle owners don't know that. I therefore assume that every single flight is a piece of very strong evidence that kindles, ipads and all that lot, do not interfere with avionics, because each flight of 200 contains at least 50 active devices that have not been properly switched off for take-off or landing.

Okay, that's something you should probably have mentioned earlier.

Given my long history on this forum, perhaps you should not have assumed that I'm some kind of inveterate asshole just because I didn't explicitly mention that I'm not.

They don't have the authority - that's the point. They merely enforce the (potentially dumb) rules given to them. The consequences to them and their employers for not enforcing the rules are severe. They might lose their job. Their company might be fined.

I'm not angry at the flight attendants or even the companies for that - though the companies could probably do more to lobby for a change of the rule, on behalf of their passengers. In fact, the companies are probably not entirely blameless in this, but that would require more digging to establish.

In general you don't want people to need to make assessments. Otherwise you get Ann saying it's fine for your kindle to be in sleep mode and Bob telling you you're going to be taken off the plane unless you turn it off. And if you do give these people that power you also need to give them the training, and the wage rise for the increased responsibility. That cost goes directly to you when you buy a ticket.

On the contrary - if they don't need to make assessments, and their jobs are thereby dumbed down to just basically carrying drinks around and checking people's seatbelts, then they add pretty much zero to anyone's security, so your argument is nonsense. I'm happy to pay more for competence.


> In other words, I do what I think is sensible, reasonable.

Do you ignore medical advice because it is delivered by a nurse or CNA instead of the doctor himself? The CNA doesn't have experience prescribing medication, and is simply "parroting" information from the doctor. Does that make it less valid?

Are you an electrical engineer with experience in RF interference and complex avionics? No? Then you have no more knowledge of the situation than the hostess "parroting" instructions. Any rationalization you have is simply an excuse for being impatient.

Also, I hate everyone who grabs their bag immediately and stands up in the aisle. You realize we have another five minutes before the door opens, right?

tl;dr: You're kinda an entitled jerk on airplanes, which is one of the reasons I absolutely hate flying. For whatever reason, people like to pretend that they are god's gift to man when flying on an airplane.


Do you ignore medical advice because it is delivered by a nurse or CNA instead of the doctor himself? The CNA doesn't have experience prescribing medication, and is simply "parroting" information from the doctor. Does that make it less valid?

It depends. I know a couple of doctors personally, and so I double-check medical advice given to me (by nurses or others) with them. Some nurses give pretty awful advice. I have a permanent stiffness in one of my ankles because of crappy medical advice by a nurse.

Are you an electrical engineer with experience in RF interference and complex avionics? No? Then you have no more knowledge of the situation than the hostess "parroting" instructions. Any rationalization you have is simply an excuse for being impatient.

I have a Masters in Physics, and I built electronics circuits before - yes, I have more knowledge of RF interference than the air hostess parrotting instructions.

Beyond the knowledge, simple observation shows that there is no interference problem: most people don't know how to turn off their iPads and Kindles properly, or don't care. Probably about 1/4 of the passengers have one or more devices switched on during take-off and landing - more every month. And yet there has been no recorded increase in airplane crashes.

Also, I hate everyone who grabs their bag immediately and stands up in the aisle. You realize we have another five minutes before the door opens, right?

Yep - and I want to spend that five minutes able to focus my mind somewhere else (e.g. my phone) rather than glancing expectantly at the luggage rack waiting for my chance to scurry and pick up my bag. Once the line starts moving, I want to be one of those people who just moves - not one of those jerks who then proceeds to spend 30 seconds blocking the line to fish out their bag and slows everyone else down.

tl;dr: You're kinda an entitled jerk on airplanes, which is one of the reasons I absolutely hate flying. For whatever reason, people like to pretend that they are god's gift to man when flying on an airplane.

I've made it a policy to not read tl;dr;s. It's a recent thing. Did I miss something of value in there?


I don't disagree with your premise in general....but...The silliness of one rule doesn't, in my mind, invalidate all the other ones. I mean, couldn't you reverse your logic? Find a rule that makes sense (say, no smoking on the plane) and thus summarize that all rules make sense?

I keep thinking to myself that flying is a privilege, not a right. But that's probably more a reflection of my own authoritarian views than anything else. Cheers.


You're absolutely right, and I didn't say they were all invalidated.

All that the silliness of one rule means is that we have to make our own minds up as to which rules are sensible and which are silly. Which was basically my point.


So you're a self centered inconsiderate jerk and you're proud of it, how typical. The rules do apply to you, I suggest you figure that out before someone decides to teach you the hard way that everyone else doesn't appreciate you ignoring the rules.


Jump to conclusions much? Got some passive aggressive issues perhaps?

No one has ever had anything to complain about with respect to my behaviour on planes - not even flight attendants.


> Jump to conclusions much?

When many people make the same assumption you might want to consider whether there's a problem with your post.

Your first post makes you sound like a jerk. Such a jerk that people have down voted you for it; called it disappointing; and called you a jerk.


You likely have a point there, though I wonder how much of the backlash is just people piling on to a post that is fading, rather than thinking for themselves. I'd wager that at least half the down votes were by people who didn't read most or the comment.


No, you just sound like a jerk.


In general, rules either exist for the benefit of an individual or of society in general.

If you think the rules that benefit society in general do not apply to you simply because you disagree with them then you are nothing more than a common arsehole.


Nope. You have a very strange view of rules. Who taught you that that's why they exist?

Rules exist because someone (or a group of someones) decided to make them exist. There is no necessity that the rule be actually for the benefit of anyone, though most societies try to require rules to at least seem vaguely beneficial before adopting them.

A month in any corporation should make it obvious that rules and benefits are entirely orthogonal concepts, much of the time.


First off, to all the downvoters: great to see you piling on like sheep. Ask yourself: is my comment spam? Otherwise offensive? Or is it a reasonably well argued point that you disagree with?

If you downvoted simply because you disagree with it, think about what you've done. Go slap yourself. You deserve it. You should be ashamed of yourself for your gregarious, ostracising behaviour.


> Air hosts/hostesses have none of those attributes - they are merely parrotting rules handed down to them, without putting any thought into them.

Those people cannot - are not allowed to, on pain of dismissal from their job and heavy fines for their company - make allowances for the rules.

Ranting about low wage employees who are forced to apply rules (whether they like it or not) just because you don't see the point of those rules makes you sound like the kind of person who deserves a good solid down vote.

> I don't care one whit for "the rules" except where I have analysed them and deemed them sensible myself.

When's the last time you escaped from a burning aircraft? Why should I trust my life to your "analysis"?


Hold your fucking horses. I'll get to replying to these points as I work my way down the thread. Geesh. Have some patience.


Well, the Mythbusters showed that the reason is that old planes without shielding on their wires and instruments did get interference from cell phone calls[1]. But no modern plane should have that issue.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_(2006_season)#Episo...


Best. Show. Ever.

Wouldn't make an important decision based on them. They are good, but a lot of what they do isn't nearly rigorous enough to risk lives.


In this case the interesting part was that they actually showed that a cellphone can cause interference with some instruments. They dug up some old instruments, put them in a Faraday cage, called a cellphone and the needles in the instruments moved like crazy. So we now know the root of the problem.

Then they showed that in a modern plane that shouldn't happen. And that wasn't scientific at all. But the point is that we know what the issue is and how to solve it (shielding), that modern planes already implement the solution and that the only thing left is to explore the issue a little further and publish it in a way that both the public and the regulatory agencies can digest and apply.


I don't think I've ever been more appreciative of any single Senator than I am now for Claire McCaskill and her comments in this article.

A plane I was on just last week had a flight attendant that made the claim that he could check some sensor and tell us which mobile devices were on within the plane at any time. After the flight, I checked in with my family (Two teenagers, myself, and my older parents) and discovered that every one of us had taken that as a challenge and left our devices on.


There are two main classes of electronic devices:

1. Devices that are unintentional radiators 2. Devices that are intentional radiators

The concern is that people may not know which class their device falls into, and also that they may not know how to fully disable their device as well. The problem with intentional radiators is more obvious - it could potentially jam other circuits by producing energy at specific frequencies. However, many people seem to ignore the other class of unintentional radiators. Many circuits require the use of clock generators and phase-locked loops, which can actually radiate a fair distance away if not designed correctly. One of the problems with this is that noise generated by a PLL could intermodulate with the PLLs in the plane's navigation systems (i.e. GPS or ADF) and cause the pilot to use an inaccurate position report in determining the location of the plane.

An example of one such interference case: Someone wanted to launch a high-altitude balloon with onboard GPS and an amateur radio transmitter. They added a small keychain camera manufactured by a Chinese company, but when the camera was powered on, it completely disabled the GPS from locking on to any satellites.


I have always wondered what the FCC must think of the FAA for this policy. I don't know a lot about the FCC certification process for electronics that contain radios, but I know that it involves both minimizing the amount of harmful emissions and operating safely under some harmful emissions. That the FAA could cite interference from radios as a reason to ban their use seems to this layman as a textbook example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Typical contradictory policy making that we've come to expect of large governments.


I think the FAA is acting like an idiot, here, but it'd be good to look at this from their side.

This falls under the "stuff that might make me look bad" category. You can be the guy who prevents electronic devices on planes for 50 years and it doesn't matter. But if you're the guy that approves them and then there's a crash? Better get your Senate suit out of the cleaners, because all of those politicians writing you letters to "do something" will be the first ones asking you the tough questions on national TV. They'll be first in line to take credit if the result is good, but it's all on you if the result is bad.

It's very difficult to set up a politically-derived organization that can deal with risk effectively. Instead on manageable risk, it's much safer and easier to push for situations with no risk at all -- take the TSA, for instance.

No bureaucrat gets fired for being too careful. This is an issue that might very well end up requiring legislation to fix.

ADD: One more note. Every day there are millions of passenger miles flown on airlines. Surely the law of large numbers says that we're already performing an experiment on electronic device radiation and the cockpit. There's no way you can get 100% of the devices off. Somebody left their phone in the carry-on. Somebody's PC refuses to shut down. Somebody forgets to turn his kindle off. Dozens, if not hundreds of times each day, planes are flying in difficult weather with all kinds of electronic devices transmitting all kinds of garbage. Yet we've never seen a flight failure due to electronic interference.

And of course the pilots are up front using all sorts of consumer devices as well.

We've already done the experiment, at least in smaller numbers. Whether or not there's a problem when hundreds of devices are on is certainly an open question, but whether or not a few of them are going to take down a plane is already settled.


> One more note. Every day there are millions of passenger miles flown on airlines. Surely the law of large numbers says that we're already performing an experiment on electronic device radiation and the cockpit.

I couldn't agree with this more. At one point, I was flying very frequently for work, and I used to make a hobby out of watching to see what people did with their electronics when prepping for take-off. Laptops usually got turned off, but rarely did I see someone turn their phone off completely. I'd see a lot of people switch to airplane mode, then put their phone to sleep (a short press on a button). I'd even see a lot of people who simply put their phones on silent (usually when I'm sitting next to them; this is difficult to observe from a distance). Behavior on landing is pretty telling as well. When you see people texting and making calls immediately after landing, you know that their phones weren't off completely. When you watch the person next to you take out their phone and begin texting immediately, you know that the phone wasn't even put in to airplane mode.

These scenarios were far more common than observing someone actually power down/up a device.

I'd imagine that it is possible to get an estimate of the number of RF emitting devices within range. I really wish the FAA would do a study of what actually happens on planes, rather than what the rules say should happen on planes, because I suspect the results will be much different than they expect.


> Yet we've never seen a flight failure due to electronic interference.

How do you know? There are plenty of unexplained failures traced to electronics or on board computers. And stuff like electronics acting weird and after reset they're ok again is even more common. If these things happen more frequently it could lead to trouble.

How would you even expect to prove after an incident that it was due to interference?


Two days ago I flew VIE-MXP. I didn't turn off my iPad, nor my I put my iPhone on flight mode. Yet, I'm still here typing this.


An asteroid didn't destroy civilization yesterday. Therefore, it follows that an asteroid will never destroy our civilization.

I'm not a fan of "turn off all electronics" policy either, but your statement is just plain silly.


Did you read the article? They cite reliable sources that say this ban on electronics on airliners is nothing but baloney.

Anyway, I'm honestly curious... Where's your favorite place, under your bed?


Did you read my comment? "I used an iPad and I'm still alive!" is just about the worst argument possible (for anything), for similar reasons that saying an asteroid won't destroy the earth because it hasn't yet is a terrible argument.

It had nothing to do with the article (which I read) and my personal opinions (which, you'll notice in my comment, I express agreement with the article).

This is just turning pedantic now, so apologies. I should have just down-voted your comment instead of replying.


No harm, no foul. Happy new year! :)


I don't think I've ever turned my phone off/to aeroplane mode during a flight.


That's the ridiculous part (well, one of many). If wifi, or cellular signal could detrimentally interfere with an airplane's operation, shouldn't a more thorough check be done to make sure all devices are "off" rather than the current polite warning? After all a terrorist could be watching YouTube...on purpose!


Of course it is harmless. But don't do it! It is part of a disinformation campaign/honeypot. The flights to area 51 are full of people secretly renditioned for watching youtube on commercial flights...


Linkbait (original) title, a relevant quote right from the beginning of the text is "The F.A.A. has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane’s avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims."


There are two issues going on simultaneously.

I suggest the following experiment. Take your hand-held two-way radio transmitter to Dayton Ohio during the annual ham convention there. Tune it to a 2 meter frequency, and just listen for half an hour. You will hear vast quantities of intermodulation--signals that aren't really there, and signals that are there that are hopelessly garbled.

This is happening because there are hundreds of similar transmitters all over the hamfest that are transmitting simultaneously. The intermodulation distortion comes about because when a radio receiver, half of your two-way radio, receives multiple signals these signals combine in the receiver and produce distortion signals that are the sum and difference of two frequencies. So with many multiples of frequencies that are rather strong, there are a host of fake signals going to your earphone.

Each device, such as an iPad, iPhone, android device, has multiple radio transmitters. Some of them are deliberate radio transmitters, such as the wi-fi or the cellular radio. Others are the side effect of the receivers that are built in to the devices, such as the GPS. Receivers themselves actually transmit, albeit at a smaller level. Similarly, if you have a transistor am/fm radio receiver, it generates (transmits) a signal as well.

Other unintentional transmitters are the clock for any CPU that might be there.

So on an airplane, if there are tens or hundreds of devices, you get a real mass of interfering signals.

How does this affect the avionics of the airplane? Well, you won't hear a heterodyne, as there is no audio output--just some instrument reading. What happens when the avionics hears intermodulation distortion?

As to the idea that two hundred ipads are just like one, the claim that “Electromagnetic energy doesn’t add up like that,” said Kevin Bothmann, the EMT Labs testing manager doesn't square with simple physics. Another article quoting this lab study suggested that he was confused by the difference between decibels and power levels. I argue that it adds up worse. Check out Dayton.

The article says None of those episodes have produced scientific evidence that a device can harm a plane’s operation. Reports of such interference have been purely speculation by pilots about the cause of a problem. The thing is, that speculation about problems in the air by experienced aircraft operators is the only clue that we have just up to the point where people die. As was the case in the Tenerife air disaster, three second long whistling sound (or heterodyne) blocked a very key bit of information.

The way we learn if a pilot's suspicion is true is for people to die in aircraft accidents.

So the second problem is for the cellular phones. Keep in mind that cellular phones depend upon line-of-sight. If you are walking down Jackson avenue to meet a friend at Intellegensia for coffee, your line of sight to the cellular towers is limited. So how far is the line of sight away if you are at 20,000 feet? Quite a ways. Possibly the next state. For every cell tower that your phone can "see", there is the possibility of a connection. Not a good idea to tie up that many cellular tower channels.

It will be interesting to see how this battle plays out. If the current FAA rules are right that passengers should not be transmitting during take off and landing and the social pressure causes the rules to change, the only way we will know is when a plane falls out of the sky, since we aren't giving pilots complaining about heterodynes any credibility.


>So on an airplane, if there are tens or hundreds of devices, you get a real mass of interfering signals.

I'd wager large and ridiculous amounts of cash that many people just stash their devices without actually turning them "off" or into any kind of "airplane mode".

So where's this danger?

What about devices that don't have an "off"? I've gotten into more than one argument (and nearly ejected from a plane) over a Kindle, since even when "off" there's still text on the screen. It took the words of about 4 other passengers to convince the FA she needs to educate herself about e-ink.

The ire here is because the FAA's rules have no intelligence behind them.

"Electromagnetic interference"

Science doesn't add up. Try again.

"Distraction"

You don't stop people from reading books.

"Danger in case of turbulence or sudden movement"

Again you don't stop people from reading books.

I, and a great deal more air travellers, would have more respect for the rules if they showed the slightest inkling of having any kind of common sense or conistency to them. When a five year old can point out something wrong with your rule, you are doing it wrong.


>The ire here is because the FAA's rules have no intelligence behind them.

Well, I suggest that the ire is more that "I think the rule is ridiculous and I want to use my device anyway."

They do have intelligence behind them in the form of raw physics.

>Science doesn't add up. Try again.

Sorry, but science does in fact add up. Radio signals are important for an airplane to navigate. iPads and other PEDs can cause interference. How do you explain that to the typical passenger? Perhaps they take a different tack to get the different behavior.


> How do you explain that to the typical passenger?

You get some video cameras and start filming. You take some avionic displays. You take a bunch of cell phones and iPads. You turn the cell phones on, do some normal activities, and record the distortions to the avionics devices.

You then show that video to passengers.

I believe that pre-GSM analogue phones probably caused considerable interference.

And, because they are not close to cell towers modern GSM phones will switch to highest-power mode to get a better signal. Having a couple of hundred of those phones bunched up together in a plane might cause problems. Listen to the burbling noise you get with a phone near any radio. (And the electronics are not all in the pilot's cabin - there's stuff all over aircraft.)

But it's obviously controversial, and causes confrontation between bolshy passengers and staff who have no option but to enforce the rule; so if they're going to continue to have the rule they should justify it with science and research and evidence.

Do the studies. Show the harm. Publish the results.

And if it's not harmful, well, great. Change the regulations and concentrate on all the other stuff that can cause death and destruction.


>Radio signals are important for an airplane to navigate. iPads and other PEDs can cause interference.

Science does not work that way.

Where is the proof of any such interference being caused on an average plane?

You mean the FAA couldn't organize some kind of test of cellphones given 10+ years to do so?

Why aren't the devices that already exist and are already transmitting not causing harmful interference? (And if you don't think they exist, I've got this bridge...)


> What about devices that don't have an "off"? I've gotten into more than one argument (and nearly ejected from a plane) over a Kindle, since even when "off" there's still text on the screen.

Push and hold the button for at least 4 (6?) seconds.

> It took the words of about 4 other passengers to convince the FA she needs to educate herself about e-ink.

What's the equivalent to Skitt's Law when it's not about grammar?

(Skitt's Law: "Any post pointing out a mistake in grammar will have an error" (but he wrote it much more elegantly than I have here.)


All that does on mine is cause it to reboot. Might be because it's jailbroken and running funky code.


The Kindle has 3 modes. "On"; "asleep"; and "off". It can receives stuff wirelessly while "on" or "asleep".

It also has an airplane mode.

> Power switch — puts your Kindle to sleep, wakes it up, and turns your Kindle on or off. The power switch is located just to the right of the micro-USB/power port. To put your Kindle to sleep, slide and release the power switch; the screensaver appears on the display. While your Kindle is asleep, other keys and buttons are locked so that you don’t accidentally change the place in your reading. For Kindle with Special Offers, the center of the 5-way controller is not locked while your Kindle is asleep. To turn your Kindle off, slide and hold the power switch for seven seconds until the screen goes blank and then release. To wake up or turn on your Kindle, slide and release the power switch again. If you have set up a device password, you will be prompted to enter the password after turning on your Kindle or waking it from sleep.

> If your Kindle does not power on or is unresponsive during use, try resetting the device by sliding and holding the power switch for 15 seconds before releasing.

> Might be because it's jailbroken and running funky code

Well, that's awkward. The FA must enforce the regulations; you don't want to say anything like "modified electronic device" or you risk being taken off the plane at gunpoint and detained in a room while big men with rubber gloves search every orifice.

I do agree that the rules are annoying as heck.


Ok books are now banned. Are you happy?


At least then they'd be consistent. If the rule were something like "Your hands must be empty during taxi, takeoff, and landing", that could be defended as ensuring attentiveness and reducing the chance of random crap being thrown about the cabin in case of sudden movement.

Not gonna happen, though. The FAA's constant waffling on the reasons has completely annihilated any respect anyone might have ever had for the rule.


You raise a good technical point, once which I don't have the E&M background to comment on. But, I think there is an obvious question: if it's relatively easy to setup these circumstances where interference from many devices can effect the instruments in a modern plane, why don't we have such demonstrations?

The FAA's position is that they don't have proof that the devices are completely safe to use. But what experiments have they carried out? If they had experiments which showed that the devices are not safe to use, I would assume they would just cite those. If they don't have any experiments, then I find that troubling as well. If they do have experiments, then how many do we have to perform before we realize that you can't prove a negative? (That is, if the devices are safe, you can't experimentally prove this.)


The trick is that the experiment might get back a "sometimes" result. That is, sometimes a certain combination of devices causes a radio spur to give one of the avionics a little tickle. Then, if something drifts (as CPU clocks will) the spur goes away, or drifts off to a harmless band, or onto something else you are not watching.

And doing the test on the ground is not convincing, as the signals the instruments are looking at are at a larger strength than the spurs. How does the spur compete with the ever-weakening signal as the plane flies further out? The desired signal declines as the square of the distance, where as the junk in the passenger compartment is not changing.

And you can also do the math on this, and it is intimidating. The math says to take the sum and difference of every pair of radio signals to see the full spectrum of hash put out by the collection of devices. With three or five radios (I am including the unintentional transmitters here as well, like CPU clocks) on 200 devices, that is how many pairs? Now, how many signals does that spit out?

And if they did site such a study, the social pressure would still be here. In the article, we are referencing the acumen of Alec Baldwin and Claire McCaskell.

(Spur is jargon for Spurious Signal.)

The military faced a problem in the same space but of a different magnitude. Powerful radars need to be turned off during takeoff and landing for some aircraft so they are not blind.


The argument that "many signals add up to catastrophe" is a load of bunk.

1) The RF emissions of most unintentional transmitters are next to nothing. They're difficult to measure, and because signal strength decreases over distance at a rate that is similar to an inverse log, the net effect at any distance (even inches away) is even less.

2) In the atmosphere, and especially at altitude, a plane is being bombarded by cell phone signals anyway. Cell towers are designed to transmit in an elongated toroidal pattern in order to maximize efficiency, but there is still significant cellular spectrum radiation transmitted in to the atmosphere.

3) Everything else. The atmosphere is full of electromagnetic interference. You can listen to lightning strikes with an AM radio. You can also listen to the spark plugs in your car. Cosmic rays bombard the planet from outer space, despite our planets considerable electromagnetic shielding.

The bottom line is that any equipment sensitive enough to be disrupted by unintentional transmission shouldn't be used in a plane. Cell phone signals are transmitted in predictable wavelengths. Likewise for WiFi. If there were truly significant risk to the safety of aircraft at the influence of these consumer electronic devices, there would be a warning bell in the cockpit that goes off every single time RF from those bands were detected above a certain threshold. I've never seen or heard of such a thing, and it wouldn't be feasible anyway, because of the aforementioned interference already present.


>The argument that "many signals add up to catastrophe" is a load of bunk.

No, it is not. See the earlier note about Dayton.

1) RF emissions of unintentional transmitters is measured in labs all the time. Every such device, say for example, a desktop computer, has an FCC id number, certifying that it complies with a level of radiation.

2) You are completely neglecting the fact that signal strength is proportional to the inverse of the square of the distance. As the airplane is flying, the distance to cell towers is changing. The distance between the cockpit and avionics to the passenger compartment is not changing, unless the plane has broken apart.

3) Everything else: yes, but the signals from the PEDs are In The House. Lightening strikes will affect avionics.


1) Exactly! The FCC requires that unintentional RF emissions must be below a certain point. That's kind of my point.

2) And you're neglecting that cell phones transmit at 0.3 watts, versus (for example) an FM radio tower that transmits at 1000 watts, or a cell tower transmitting at (around) 500 watts per channel. The point is that the radiation from cell phones is small to begin with. Ground based transmitters are far, far stronger, and planes fly nearest to them at the most critical times.

3) I don't see the significance of the distinction between the PED being 15 ft from the avionics inside the plane versus outside, but I'm open to explanations why it's significant.


I am not sure of the power output of a cell tower--500 watts seems unreasonably large. But let's take your numbers and see where the inverse square law brings us.

So multiplying power by the inverse square of the distance in feet for your cell numbers is 0.00133333.

500 watts one mile away gives 1.7935 e-5.

The cell signal is 75 times stronger. And it is inside the airplane, whereas the cell tower is outside the metallic skin of the aircraft, whose attenuation effect we have not calculated.

I suspect the power output of a cell tower is much less than 500 watts. With gain antennas at that frequency and line-of-sight, it is much likely to be less.

Let's take a very popular FM broadcast station: WFMT. Its power is 6000 watts ERP. Its relative strength would be 6.15460 e-7. The cell signal is 2166 times as strong at the cockpit than WFMT.

And that is just one cell signal.


> speculation about problems in the air by experienced aircraft operators is the only clue that we have just up to the point where people die

You mean that in a decade it hasn't been possible for the FAA/FCC to get hold of an airplane, some devices and actually test that proposition?


This would require us to put a plane up with 200 ipads on board and have some pilot fly it until it drops out of the sky. Good pilots are rare and sacrificing people for testing planes is a really sucky proposition just to see if you can play farmville while in the air. You could ask that the plane fly without a pilot on board, but that would require the manufacture of some sort of autonomatic pilotation device and given how we don't even have self-driving cars, I don't see it happening any time soon.


Huh?

How about measuring emissions reaching the cockpit instruments, putting instruments in the back, doing tests on the ground, doing tests outside the airplane with different types of instruments, allowing devices on modern (more heavily shielded) planes and then seeing whether there are statistically more of these benign incidents (pilot obviously has discretion to ban devices, as always), since we haven't actually seen any planes drop out of the sky, ...


Keep in mind that the interference will be different in the air. The desired signals that the avionics need fade as the distance squared from the transmitter. There is no corresponding fade from the interference in the passenger compartment.


We've had autonomous aircraft for years.

But no, this would only require having a plane on the ground, 200 mobile devices and monitoring the plane's systems. A crash need not be part of the test. Thank god you're not heading the FDA, that would be genocide.


Why can't you test the plane with 200 ipads on the ground?


Let's say I want to take down a plane with radio interference. What is the most plausible attack vector? What devices have the highest ratio of distortion to size?


What happens when the avionics hears intermodulation distortion?

What instruments would/could be (or are) affected by signals from consumer electronics devices?


On modern aircraft, not just the cockpit electronics but the flight controls themselves. They are no longer cables, they are electronic (rudders, etc.).

If you fly a smaller/older plane (I flew a cessna earlier this month) they don't have the same "off" requirement. "Airplane" mode is fine.




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