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FAA to take a 'fresh look' at electronics ban 16

by Derek Kessler Mon, 19 Mar 2012 6:22 pm EDT

FAA to take a 'fresh look' at electronics ban

It's not often we get to cover industry news here on webOS Nation, mostly because webOS is currently somewhat detached from the industry. Write about the carriers and their never-ending quest to take more of your money in exchange for less utility? No need, none of them really sell webOS devices anymore. How about the legal wrangling over patents? Nobody's bothered Palm or HP over that. So we sit on the sidelines, tossing popcorn into our open mouths, reminiscing about what it used to be like. What's this streaking by overhead? An airplane, it would seem, the kind that we're always so frustrated being inside and having to switch off all of our gadgets (for this blogger, the trip to CES included one laptop, two cameras, four phones (two active), and a TouchPad) so the plane can depart from and return to the ground.

The FAA - the Federal Aviation Administration, for the uninitiated, mandates that airline passengers turn off their electronic gizmos when the plane is (a) not parked at the terminal, and (b) below 10,000 feet. The reasoning being that interference from radios, chips, and the like could interfere with sensitive electronics throughout the plane that are used to keep our modern flying machines safely in the air instead of nose-first in the nearest mountainside.

I'll be honest, there are times I've forgotten to turn off a gadget or two (for my flight out to CES I failed to turn off both my TouchPad and laptop - both were in standby), and not a single time has that resulted in a catastrophic meeting with the ground, unintended course corrections, or spinning dials in the cockpit. That said, there are documented cases of devices causing interference, and from a physics standpoint it seems plausible - especially when you consider that the sensors and doodads are located throughout the plane and not up front with the pilots.

Even so, the ban and the occasionally humorous news surrounding it have drawn the ire of enough flyers that the FAA is reevaluating their position. So, with tens of millions of tablets and e-readers and hundreds of millions of smartphones out there, the FAA is going to test again our favorite electronic devices to see if they really are capable of knocking planes out of the sky. And if they're not, well, maybe you'll get to leave that TouchPad or laptop turned on during take-off and landing. But if there's the slightest risk, we think we'd rather err on the side of caution and just do as the nice flight attendant says.

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16 Comments

I find it hard to believe that airplanes are so poorly designed that any electronics could cause them to fall out of the air, or interfere with navigation, etc. I just don't buy it. Besides, didn't Mythbusters already prove this myth busted?

Now, a TRS-80 Model I, that's a different story. ;)

Alrighty, then. Didn't know about LS.

Oops. Didn't mean to post twice. :)

Worth noting that, from what I've read, the FAA isn't including smartphones in this study, merely the other gadgets on the list.

Yeah, I think wifi only devices are probably ok.

"I'll be honest, there are times I've forgotten to turn off a gadget or two (for my flight out to CES I failed to turn off both my TouchPad and laptop - both were in standby)"

I was under the impression that a laptop in standby is technically shut off as far as wi-fi or other communications are concerned. Is this not the case?

I dunno. My touchpad is able to receive email when it's in standby. So unless you have airplane mode on, I think it's still on. Just the screen is off.

Isn't that why all webOS phones and the TP have airplane mode?

They say "turn off" because it's just easier to say that than "put your devices into airplane mode and if it doesn't have airplane mode please put it into standby and when you're done put them away so you will pay attention". My ex wife is a flight attendant and she says that the reason that all devices need to be turned off during takeoff and landing is because those are the times that the flight is most vulnerable to disaster so they need everyone alert and paying attention. And you're not going to be alert and attentive of you're sitting there with headphones on texting your friends or family. Now, this is the spirit behind the -10000 ft no gadgets rule, but I am sure many flight attendants no longer know WHY the rule exists, just that it does and it needs to be enforced.

Secondly, the reason cell phone use is banned (and will be until technology has changed a bit) is not about interference. It's a request from the service providers themselves. Wireless phone service is a line of sight technology and when flying above cell towers your phone can see MANY cell towers and tries to log into all of them to obtain a service signal. That's not a problem on the ground because we have geological features, buildings, trees, and the curvature of the earth preventing that. In the sky we have none of those things. With hundreds of thousands of people in the air at one point in time that causes a great deal of stress to carrier networks.

With more flights having onboard wifi (for pay - it is really annoying how airlines continue to nickel and dime us with stuff isn't it?) I feel that the cell phone restriction has really been overcome for the most part because you've got the ability to get on the Internet with the inboard wifi and stay in communication. But it bothers me as a human being that the FAA is "drawing ire" from people that are so addicted to their phones/tablets/iPods/laptops/etc that they canst stop using them for 10 minutes so they are alert in in a potentially dangerous situation.

...during takeoff and landing is because those are the times that the flight is most vulnerable to disaster so they need everyone alert and paying attention...

Yep. Taxi, Take Off and Landing are the critical points. There is very little time for reaction during those stages so it is very important that people be fully alert.

But it bothers me as a human being that the FAA is "drawing ire" from people that are so addicted to their phones/tablets/iPods/laptops/etc that they canst stop using them for 10 minutes so they are alert in in a potentially dangerous situation.

This!

I'd like to think that my being alert and attentive is going to make a difference when I am sitting in my economy seat buckled in between 2 fat people who are sweating out my will to live-

- but it's not. I may as well die distracted!

During my 32 year career as an airline pilot I frequently used my laptop and cell phone in the cockpit during flight. Not a single time "ever" were ANY of my flight instruments even slightly affected by the use of my devices! My experience is not unique in the industry, however you will be hard pressed to gain admissions such as mine from currently active crewmembers since the flying public assumes while in the cockpit we pilots were riveted to the act of staring out the windshield or monitoring instruments.

I could just imagine most everyone walking about the plane screaming, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW"!!! ;-)

maybe the stewardesses just don't want to have to shout over the people bellowing into their phones.... But that assumes a stewardess that speaks to the passengers for free, instead of a TV spiel. I remember back in the old days....

Exactly, The FAA - the Federal Aviation Administration has done the best job for new generation people. I love your experience and your innovative thinking process. Will be very glad if you adjust more article like this one. Thanks for this nice expose.

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