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Electronics In Flight — Danger Or Distraction? 532

another similar writes "IEEE Spectrum has a blog post revisiting the debate on whether electronic devices pose a risk to flight avionics spurred by a NY Post article about Arianna Huffington's refusal to power down her Blackberry during takeoff. The post points out the EU's removal of their own ban on cell phone use in 2007 and the likelihood of significant non-compliance daily in the US — and curiously, planes haven't been falling from the sky at a similar rate. While the potential exists for there to be a problem, it would appear the risk is low. Ever bent the rules? Is an app for landing commercial jets somewhere in our future?"
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Electronics In Flight — Danger Or Distraction?

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  • Personally, I find it hard to believe that a cell phone or wireless device can bring down an airliner. Why would a terrorist use a bomb? Why not simply turn on your iPhone?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:18AM (#34951246)

      If a cell phone posed even minimal danger to air traffic then you'd be required to put them in with the hold luggage or surrender them to the airline staff for the duration of the flight. There is no danger.

      • One could always short circuit the battery and cause a fire.
      • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:21AM (#34951922)

        The danger is that the device could cause interference with an on-board computer. It doesn't need to crash the airplane to be disruptive. Let's say that your iPhone caused the N2 reading for engine #3 to read 0 on takeoff - the pilot would think that the engine had failed and return to the airport for an emergency landing. Everyone would be deplaned and a ground crew would have to examine the engine for a couple of hours just to verify that everything was okay.

        Now, let's say the chances of that happening are 1-in-100 million. Well, the level of disruption and the odds of it happening are so poor that a terrorist wouldn't bother. But there are around 100,000 commercial flights, planet-wide, per day. That would mean that every three years you would have an incident like this.

        The price we pay to prevent this is that we don't use our electronics for the first 10 and last 20 minutes of flight and we don't use anything that transmits for the entire flight. Personally, I don't think it's that big of a deal.

        • it IS a big deal because its patently a LIE and one that continues for god-knows-why (they want to charge us, probably, and remove every free thing we bring with us if they can help it).

          if a plane could 'have trouble' by nearby low-level consumer electronics (fcc class b device) when we have MORE problems to worry about in poor plane design!

          I'd be pretty damned embarassed if some weak-assed radio signal could bring down a design of mine. who are we hiring to design planes, anyway, douglas who flips burgers

        • by eth1 ( 94901 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:02AM (#34952476)

          I don't think anything would interfere with engine or other instrumentation, as most of that is hard-wired. The problems lie in potential interference with nav radios (primarily VOR and ILS).

          As much as I hate to bring Mythbusters into any serious discussion, they brought several electronic devices, aircraft instruments, and a ramp test box (which simulates the aforementioned navigation aids) into a faraday cage to see what they could see.

          As I remember, nothing had any effect, except for an attempted cell phone call on a specific frequency that significantly deflected either the VOR or ILS (don't remember which now). Since ILS is what the pilots use to find the runway when they can't see, that would concern me.

          Given that the cabin crew can't tell what a given device might be doing, "all off during takeoff/landing, and no cell phones in the air" seems like a totally reasonable policy.

    • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:23AM (#34951282) Homepage

      Even so ... what happened to politeness and consideration for other passengers?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:28AM (#34951320)

        That has been long gone out the window...

        I dread the day when cell phones are allowed in use on the plane. Can you immigine a 2 hour flight with some person yacking away the entire time getting loud and annoying... I still don't like to listen to other people phone conversations at a restaurant. You know the type...

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      And the real reason is that airborne telephones may cause disturbance to the mobile phone network by being too visible. It messes with the base stations and system to locate the optimal cell.

  • It is in our past. It's called ILS and the big jets are outfitted to auto-land on it. The smaller planes just get brought on the right glidescope and at decision-height the pilot takes over.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

      Rubbish. While an ILS system CAN land an aircraft today pilots do not wait until the aircraft is 300 feet off the ground to turn off the autopilot. The autopilot is not very good at coping with any of a number of unexpected situations (the most frequent being sudden gusts of wind) that can arise on short final.

      • by santax ( 1541065 )
        That all depends on the visibility level! And they use it especially in bad weather! If I am not mistaken on the more modern aircraft carriers it's even a demand. Make no mistake about this, autolanding is being used every day.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Ah sure, there are pretty strict limits on autoland (such as crosswind etc) - and it's not a "pilots read the newspaper while an iPhone lands the plane" affair, but Cat III autoland is equipped on the large commercial jets, and many of the large airports have a Cat III autoland certified runway, allowing for, well, autoland. Go google for it, it's pretty well described out there on the intertubes.

      • by furry_wookie ( 8361 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:37AM (#34952114)
        >pilots do not wait until the aircraft is 300 feet off

        Actually your REQUIRED TO perform full autolands every 90 days in each aircraft in order to keep it certified to perform such landings when you 'really' need its help.

        (work for airline, wrote the system that keeps track of the compliance)

        Also have been in aircraft cockpit several times during autolands and even performed one myself in the full SIM. It's pretty amazing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This is definitely wrong.

        First of all regulation make it mandatory to perform Cat. 3 precision landing on autopilot. If the autopilot is not operational you are not authorized for Cat. 3

        (Cat. 3 is the one which has the lowest minima, up to Cat. 3 C, which has 0/0 for minima...meaning no minima, you land and stop blind).

        Said that yes,. small, light single prop autopilots are just a little more than toys and can't land safely a plane ether in ideal conditions. Big planes do have very sophisticated autoland s

  • by will_die ( 586523 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:15AM (#34951220) Homepage
    Over the last few months I have been on a few EU carriers and they have the same restriction of no personnal electronics during take off and landing, same as when I was on the US carriers.
    • by JLangbridge ( 1613103 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:23AM (#34951274) Homepage
      Don't confuse this. Electronics are banned on take off and landing for different reasons, not just for interference. Electronics are banned for radio interference, because that is the easy explanation, but one of the multiple reasons is passenger attention. Take off and landing are, statistically, the most dangerous times, where all passengers are required to be attentive to what goes on. When you take off at night and they dim the cabin lights, some people say that it is for electrical considerations, but it also gets your eyes used to the outside light in case you need to evacuate. Airplanes and procedures are carefully planned so that you can evacuate quickly in case of an emergency, and people being distracted form electronics isn't really a good idea.
      • by Kludge ( 13653 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:32AM (#34951370)

        What? The plane crashed? I didn't notice. I was on my Blackberry. Neither did I notice the guy sitting next to me who was hitting me so I would get out of his way. I'm going to send him a nasty text message.

        • by sg3000 ( 87992 )

          What? The plane crashed? I didn't notice. I was on my Blackberry. Neither did I notice the guy sitting next to me who was hitting me so I would get out of his way. I'm going to send him a nasty text message.

          Seriously though -- maybe a passenger won't miss the plane had already crashed, but that's not the only time attendants need their passengers to pay attention. If a passenger is engaged in a conversation or playing a game, they'll likely miss the attendant giving critical instructions: there's turbulence, passengers get into a crash position or something like that. Forcing people to put their distractions away during take-off and landing makes sense from a people management/safety perspective. This is comi

          • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )
            Except they'll let me keep reading my book, and if I'm reading a book I might as well not be there, because I'm so tuned out. Is the cell phone more distracting than a good story? For me it definitely isn't.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          If you can walk into a huge fountain [] while texting, then you can miss critical details if there is an emergency. Put the phone away, wait until you're at 10,000 feet, then open it up and keep playing your game. It's a 10 minute break - get over it.
      • by aclidiere ( 698224 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:54AM (#34951612)

        [...] one of the multiple reasons is passenger attention.

        That's what a pilot told me too. If passengers are listening to music, for example, they won't hear announcements made on the speakers.

        It's not that the inability to hear announcements is a direct threat to the safety of passengers. But it's one of those cases where you want to eliminate anything that can potentially make a bad situation become worse.

        Most plane crashes, it seems to me, are caused by a combination of small incidents that—combined together—create a deadly situation. When reviewing those incidents, they never seem so serious if considered separately.

      • by upuv ( 1201447 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:06AM (#34951758) Journal

        You do realize you are spouting nonsense?

        The interference bit is pure BS. This has been debunked for a couple of decades now.

        Attentive at take of and landing. Take off, people are still doing everything but being ready to sprint to the exit. Landing there are three things going on. The people planning the ultimate grab over head bag and bolt down to exit. The parents trying to calm the screaming kid. And the rest stare out the window. All of which have nothing to do with BRACE BRACE BRACE FIRE BALL.

        Dimming the cabin lights for take off is simply a calming step to subconsciously tell people to settle down. It has nothing at all to do with escape or electrical consideration. Having a calm cabin removes a lot of stress points for cabin crew. For example calm people are less likely to decide to go to the can. It allows cabin crew to achieve the most they can in a short time frame. It also reduces the risk of people with flying fears from freaking out. If every one is settled the people on the edge will also likely be more inclined to be calmer. It has ZIP to due with quick exit.

        As an aside. Any aircraft situation where the passengers and crew have time to plan for an event is almost always a long developing situation. Long as in several tens of minutes. Sudden take off and sudden landing events rarely have more than a few seconds warning if any.

        Sorry but I worked in the industry for many many years and quite frankly most of the "safety" procedures are purely a show. They are pacifiers to give the illusion of safety.

        In airport security and safety procedures are even more farcical. But that is not the point of this thread.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

      These are merely the same restrictions the FAA used to have on cigarettes - you could only light them once you were above the cloud layer. Since smoking is no longer allowed on commercial airliners and this pretty much coincides with the timeline for the rise of personal electronics, someone decided to keep the exact same rule for electronic devices. Look out the window next time and you'll see that the message is always given just as you pass above the clouds.

    • In most cases, yes. But some time last year, I was on a Ryan Air flight on which advertisements throughout the plane announced the availability of in-flight cellular services (at significant markup, of course). Out of curiosity, I switched my phone on at cruising altitude and, if memory serves me, got a text message welcoming me to the service. Out of frugality, I refrained from making any calls.

      • by 0123456 ( 636235 )

        In most cases, yes. But some time last year, I was on a Ryan Air flight on which advertisements throughout the plane announced the availability of in-flight cellular services (at significant markup, of course). Out of curiosity, I switched my phone on at cruising altitude and, if memory serves me, got a text message welcoming me to the service. Out of frugality, I refrained from making any calls.

        That's probably the system the guy I spoke to was working on; he said they use a bunch of tricks to push the cellphones into low transmit power mode to ensure they won't interfere with aircraft systems. If I remember what he said correctly, electronics interference from full power transmissions really isn't a problem on modern planes, but could be on older ones (ISTR that the first 747 to go into service was only retired a few years ago after about 40 years).

  • No direct link found (Score:5, Informative)

    by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:15AM (#34951222)
    A few seasons back, Mythbusters did some tests and found that none of their phones were able to affect even remotely the instruments of a plane. It makes sense after all - we're not exactly seeing terrorists trying to sneak twelve cell phones on board and try to text each other into crashing the plane.
    • One of the reasons that electronics are banned is because it distracts people, and airline companies (and federal directives) want passengers to be at peak concentration during takeoff and landing, just incase anything goes wrong and they need to evacuate the plane. I also flew Delta a while ago, and they had an onboard Wifi system that I could use to get my emails, so wireless can't be that dangerous; I'm still alive.
      • by grahamm ( 8844 )

        So why do they not tell people to be alert and attentive and discourage people from leaning back (in the upright seat) and closing their eyes/dozing or from reading a book?

        • Because there's no good explanation for that except to keep them attentive in case anything goes wrong. And you might have noticed how the notion that something may go wrong is handled with utmost delicacy on planes. They really, really don't want to mention anything that might cause you to think that there's the possibility that something might go wrong. When you listen to the "safety instructions" before the flight, you'll notice how it's worded to sound like that can't ever happen anyway.

          Movies are caref

    • Will if Mythbusters can't do it then I guess no-one can. I am sure the guys in compliance labs would love to be replaced by a fat guy who likes diving and a skinny one who does what exactly?

      • by Drakkenmensch ( 1255800 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:35AM (#34951410)

        Will if Mythbusters can't do it then I guess no-one can. I am sure the guys in compliance labs would love to be replaced by a fat guy who likes diving and a skinny one who does what exactly?

        It was actually the build team who did that experiment - a redhead with a taste for car destruction, an italian who can't ride a bicycle without injuring himself and an electronics obssessed asian robosexual.

    • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

      maybe they should have tried old nmt phones.

  • ...then they would make more of an effort to have you turn them off instead of just asking politely.
  • Ideally, passengers shouldn't be distracted / "in their own world" (headphones) during takeoff or landing, when even a small delay can reduce the odds in case of an emergency.

    Hypothetically... because from what I've seen recently, an old style (yup, compact cassette) Walkman tends to be quite openly accepted by cabin crew. Despite it being visibly a late model / with some microcontroller / perhaps spewing around more EMP than a cellphone in offline mode.

    • Tosh, the odds of a plane crashing are worse than the likelyhood of winning the lottery without a ticket.

      Now don't get me wrong, safety rules often seem daft and beyond the needs of common sense but this is because the rule that you find bizarrely over the top is protecting against a very serious outcome - even if the risk is infinitesimally low.

      However we now spend most of our lives in baby romper suits, wrapped up against the possibility that a lightning bolt will hit us. Well sod that, I want to live my

      • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:38AM (#34951444) Homepage

        While the odds of a crash are minimal - if it's about to happen (and during takeoff and landing the timescales involved can be very short), you can drastically improve your odds [] if you pay attention.

      • While I agree that obsessing about minute risks is vastly overrated and overindulged in, you seem to be missing an important point that really makes your position that of an utter prick.

        Unless the airline really fucked up on bookings, you are going to be sharing that metal tube with 100+ people. Also, that tube belongs to somebody, and costs some millions of dollars. It's flight plan is such that a crash at quite a few points along the way will involve landing on some people and/or property. While I ful
  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:23AM (#34951286) Homepage Journal
    Who gives a shit about cell phones on an airplane, I want to know when I'll be able to use my remote control car during flight.
  • Crap (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ledow ( 319597 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:24AM (#34951290) Homepage

    It's a load of over-sensitive could-possibly-be-thought-might-happen crap. Like using a mobile phone in a petrol station - the risk is actually from dodgy, illegally imported batteries installed in such things which might "spark" if dropped, nothing to do with the phone itself somehow magically igniting vapours. Most petrol station fires are caused by static sparks from people re-entering their cars while they are fuelling (which in itself suggests inattention to the pump pushing litres of a flammable liquid at high speed into your car) or just plain carelessness (i.e. smoking on the forecourt).

    At some point, there probably WAS a time it could interfere with a piece of equipment not designed to take account that mobile phones were nearby (even if that was just audible chirps being recorded on the cockpit tapes because the mics picked them up like mics tend to do with mobile phone "check-in" broadcasts). If you're seriously using planes which are not designed to cope with mobile phone transmissions now, you're in a serious breach of due diligence as regards safety and hazards. For a start, it's too easy to leave one on, whether in the hold, or the overhead compartments, or your pocket, or even the pilot's pocket, and secondly you are going to be flying OVER mobile phone masts (with a lot more power output) and getting very, very close to them and mobile phones whenever you come into land and taxi.

    The mobile phone thing is most probably, as has been recorded in several of the EU discussions, more about radio licensing - because having lots of mobiles suddenly appear in the air can mess up OTHER things. Like I can join a ferry's maritime network but only when it's switched on when we're out at sea, not near the coast. In terms of safety, if a mobile phone, or even a thousand mobile phones, can interfere with the operation of an aircraft, then you have much more to worry about that mobile phones themselves. For a start, any transmitter, any static, any friction at all. Same for wireless, bluetooth, and anything else that operates on similar wavelengths. Hell, most aircraft that serve food have a microwave or similar heater on board - bet that churns out a million times more "Risk Assessment" than the pilot's mobile phone.

  • While the potential exists for there to be a problem, it would appear the risk is low.

    The risk may be "low," but it's not as low as the threat of another 9/11 attack -- and we're spending hundreds of billions on security theater purportedly guarding against that.

    By comparison, a few minutes electronic shutdown at takeoff and landing are pretty small change.

  • by Suzuran ( 163234 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:31AM (#34951354)

    The ban on cellphone usage during takeoff and landing is for your safety. The ban on cellphone usage during cruise is due to weaknesses in the cell network and your sanity.

    The reason we tell you not to use your phone for takeoff and landing is because those are the point during the flight when the aircraft is most likely to encounter problems and also when our navaid usage and workload is at its highest. We are trained to assume that the airplane will crash on every flight and act accordingly - Complacency Kills! You should be in the same mindset. First, there's the matter of the crash. When the aircraft goes from flying speed to nothing in a few seconds, the G-forces are going to make that iphone/laptop/whatever that you are holding in your hands suddenly weigh several times its normal weight. You WILL NOT be able to keep ahold of it. It's going to become a projectile and injure or kill the people sitting near you. Next is longer-term survival. The fact is, most deaths in air crashes happen not during the impact sequence, but in the post-crash environment. People panic and stampede. They don't know which way is out. The aircraft is dark and possibly filling with smoke or water. Situational awareness and decision-making ability are KEY to both your survival and that of your fellow passengers. Having to get your headphones off or figure out where your laptop went is not going to help. If you weren't paying attention to things before the crash you won't know where you are now and what direction you need to go. You probably ignored the safety briefing too. See where this is going? Finally, if you are alert and paying attention, the amount of information you will be able to provide to the crash investigators after the crash will be of higher quality. Those of us at the pointy end of the aircraft probably died in the impact. Being able to give information to the investigators could uncover flaws in the aircraft or our procedures, and by correcting those save hundreds of lives. We take this flying stuff seriously. You should too.

    I've heard that cell usage during cruise overloads the cell network by switching cells too often - I'm not an expert on the cell system so I'll defer to a cell tech on that. In my eyes, the ban on cell usage during cruise is for reasons of everyone's sanity. Do you really want to hear the guy in the next seat shouting into his phone about the BIG IMPORTANT EXECUTIVE THINGS BIG IMPORTANT EXECUTIVES LIKE HIM DO, or THIS THING ON MY NECK IS GETTING BIGGER, or whatever other inane thing he wants to rattle on about at maximum volume? It's bad enough everywhere else, why must we suffer too? (Misery loves company?)

    Anyway, that's the score. I've repeated this I don't know how many times now and it never sticks. STICK, DAMMIT!

    • by Endo13 ( 1000782 )

      I'm surprised it's even necessary to post something like this here. You'd think slashdotters would be savvy enough to figure this out on their own. I know I did. It doesn't take much to figure out that wireless interference has nothing to do with it.

      However, most people are stupid and so the only way to get them to behave safely is to scare them into it. "Wireless interference" for most people is something mystical that they have no control over, and thus it works for a scare tactic. "You won't be able to h

    • by russotto ( 537200 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:45AM (#34951532) Journal

      Anyway, that's the score. I've repeated this I don't know how many times now and it never sticks. STICK, DAMMIT!

      As long as you merely repeat some version of the official story -- which people know, from experience, is greatly exaggerated -- it's never going to stick.

      The projectile story might make sense... except that if you're sitting there with an iPod or phone or whatever that's turned off, they don't make you put it away. And if it's turned on, they tell you to turn it off. Since it's no less a projectile when turned off, that rationalization is busted.

      • by Suzuran ( 163234 )

        I don't know who your fly with, but we tell passengers to stow their stuff in the seatback or the overhead. If they ignore us, we can't force the issue, as holding your object isn't against the FAA rules but operating it is. They may be missing the point. In any event, since when have you ever known management to get the point of something and do the right thing? They probably think it's for interference too, and holding the turned-off object is fine.

        As far as thinking I am exaggerating, it's simple physics

        • As far as thinking I am exaggerating, it's simple physics, you are welcome to do the math yourself.

          Let's just do some logical thinking before we do any math, to decide what kind of math we're going to do. The plane is moving forward. My stuff is in my hands. If the plane hits something it's going to stop moving forward and the stuff inside it is going to keep going. Except then when my laptop or whatever hits the seat in front of me, it's going to lose basically all of its KE by deforming the seat, not someone's head. And if the plane should flip over, we're all (statistically) going to die anyway.

    • What you say is completely true, but can we stop with the FAA-mandated bullshit? There's no way security would allow some $30 phone from Radio Shack on the plane if there was even a remote chance that leaving it on would cause the plane to smack into a mountain at 500 mph.

      It just sounds so ridiculous to everyone sitting in the "non-pointy" end of the plane when it's even postulated. Instead, the FAA should just require all personal items to be stowed in the overhead bin, or under the seat in front of you

      • by Suzuran ( 163234 )

        Besides, if there was interference, we'd know about it up front - We'd hear it in our radios or see it in the instruments. Then we'd just jump on the PA and ask everyone to turn off their stuff for a moment to see if it goes away. If it goes away, then it's simple process of elimination to find the interfering device, and then notify people to have it handled. It can't be -that- common, at least not in any remotely modern equipment.

        I too earnestly wish for there to be less bullshit in flying. For some reaso

    • I have never turned off my cell phone in flight for this exact reason. I'll put in on airplane mode. I sometimes use a Bluetooth headset in flight, but I've begun bringing wired earbuds with me because a couple sitting next to me on a recent flight was getting visibly vexed by my usage and even said something to a flight attendant. Fortunately, that flight attendant knew their shit and told the folks I'm within my rights and the safety protocols. I recognize that next time, I may not be so fortunate.

    • Except, I can read a book. And the book is generally hardcover and weighs a few hundred times as much as my cell phone. And the book is probably even more distracting than a cell phone. So they should ban books during the same times.

  • The power button breaking on Nexus Ones is an unfortunately common problem - design defect (otherwise, great device). With a custom ROM, you can set it so the trackball button wakes the screen, and any other functions the power button has can be duplicated on screen.

    But - the only way to turn it on once it's off is to remove the battery, plug in a power source, and put the battery back in (sometimes a couple times before it decides to turn on). A bit of a hassle, to say the least.

    Normally, one doesn't need

  • The wiring should be shielded to withstand a lightening strike. A cell phone should have no effect. If it does, the design is defective or the electronics/wiring is damaged. If there is damage/design flaw, there is a lot of interference and other signals coming from radar, power sources, the earth, weather, etc. My guess is that something else will trigger a problem before some cell phone or wifi connection does.

  • by Psarchasm ( 6377 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @09:46AM (#34951542) Homepage Journal

    At least one study has shown that it isn't out of the question that electronic devices can have an impact on cockpit GPS systems. Inherently this is really only vital for landings.

    But the rule isn't really the problem. The problem is cheating.

    Day in and day out we all abide by questionable rules not because we agree with them, but because we are civilized human beings. Flaunting rules which could, even in the most remote chance, endanger not just your life but the lives of everyone around you is bad. Forget politics, forget gender, forget class, forget intelligence. If you aren't going to abide by the rules, then don't play the game.

  • by anegg ( 1390659 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:04AM (#34951722)

    There are many possible reasons why electronics of various types should be turned off, most of the covered by the discussion here. However, most importantly, THEY SHOULD BE TURNED OFF BECAUSE THE RULE IS TO TURN THEM OFF. That's right, I'm advocating obeying the rule just because there is a rule. Sounds like I'm some kind of wuss, huh?

    We like to think that we are a nation of laws, not men (read about it here [] or here []. A fundamental premise of this is that everyone is supposed to obey the law. I'm sure everyone can cite examples where this is not so (police giving other police a pass for infractions, etc.) but in general it is a very useful and egalitarian way to order society. We order society so that society is possible. Without order there would be chaos. One way to order society is to have multiple classes of people - you know, the nobles and the peasants. There are some who feel that this is the rightful order of things. Others don't. In the United States, one of the basic premises of our society is that everyone follows the rules. Sure, we know its not always true. But the more we pursue the ideal, the greater the chance that we will come close to it.

    I get aggravated every time I see someone flaunt their disrespect for the law, such as when driving in traffic. We've all seen someone cut to the head of a line, etc. Why do we get angry? Well, its not fair, for one thing. For another, most of us recognize that its extremely easy to break the law and we probably wouldn't get "caught" (i.e., punished by some enforcer of the law), but we obey it anyway. We are frustrated with those don't, in part because most of us are smart enough to realize that if we all disregarded those laws, we would have chaos. The rule breaking only works if a very few people do it. So those few people have anointed themselves as somehow being above the rest of us. Nothing is more sure to tick a person off then another person placing themselves above that first person, especially in a society that believes it is egalitarian.

    So think about it the next time you are breaking a rule, probably because you think you know it is a harmless infraction. Who are you ticking off with your self-importance? How much are you encouraging others to also choose to bend/break a rule, perhaps one more important? How much are you contributing to disorder and chaos?

    Most importantly, how much are you contributing to the kind of thinking exhibited by those like Ms. Huffington who obviously think that "rules are for the little people"?

  • Why do you think your Kindle or iPad can bring down the plane during take off or landing, but not while cruising? Simples - it can't.

    The main issue is that most accidents happen at takeoff or landing, and the faster people react and do the right thing, the more lives saved. Taking stuff that can fly around the cabin away from people and putting it in the seatback pocket reduces the risk of a Kindle putting someone's eye out if it flies across the cabin later. Forcing you out of your earbuds (no listening to

  • by michelcolman ( 1208008 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:27AM (#34952006)
    I'm an airline pilot, and a colleague of mine (on a Boeing 737/300) once saw his fuel quantity indicators suddenly jump to zero. He asked a cabin attendant to check if anyone was using electronic equipment in the cabin. One passenger, sitting next to the wing, was using a portable CD player. He was asked to turn it off, and fuel quantity indication returned to normal. Switched it back on again... indications went back to zero. The cause of the interference was later determined to be the motor of the CD player, which is rapidly switched on and off to keep a variable speed necessary for reading data at different distances from the center.
    Personally, while flying in the cockpit myself, I have forgotten to turn off my cell phone many times. This usually just resulted in a drained battery but no ill effects on the airplane. On a few occasions, it even started ringing during final approach. I never saw any fluctuations in the instrument indications. However, I have heard the typical noise on the radio "trrrrrrrr tkt tkt tkt tkt", which I'm sure pretty much anyone has already heard when a phone was about to ring and it was close to a radio. The instrument landing system receives signals on frequencies pretty close to those of ordinary radio, so I can imagine it being affected in the same way. But I haven't actually seen the needles jump as a result.
    In any case, this interference is VERY unlikely to affect the flight controls. Most landings are done manually, so interference should not actually be able to bring down an airplane. However, in foggy weather, the plane is landed automatically and in this case, it's probably safest to just keep all electronics off just in case the autopilot suddenly behaves in some weird way. Planes have crashed because of relatively minor errors in input, for example the radio altimeter reading an altitude that is much too low, and the plane thinking it's above the runway and bringing the power back to idle while in fact it's still at a few hundred feet. That sort of thing. Yes, it can happen, and planes have crashed as a result.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:43AM (#34952184)

      I'm a pilot as well. I haven't had instrument interference but I have had the GSM syncing signals be sufficiently loud that I had to make Air Traffic Control (ATC) repeat instructions. I was in the clouds at the time, so following ATC guidance to the letter was absolutely required for flight safety. Turning off electronics is a reasonable rule, because you actually talk to ATC a lot during take-off and landing.

      It's easy to experiment with this yourself. Take any GSM cell phone (others will do it, but GSM is by far the worst) and hold it near a speaker. Turn it on and you'll hear it chatter packets at the cell phone tower.

      As a fun aside, I've actually had similar issues with military radars from over a mile away, so it's not just stuff in the plane...

  • by Curmudgeonlyoldbloke ( 850482 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @10:36AM (#34952106)

    On a (slightly smaller) Australian plane:

    Another passenger:
    Do we need to turn our phones off?

    No need, but you can if you want to. But please hold the door open for the first 100m down the runway to let the flies blow out.

  • by quixote9 ( 999874 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @11:28AM (#34952978) Homepage
    --Air travel is a horrible experience these days, before you're even off the ground.

    --So let's add some doofus YELLING DRIVEL ON HIS PHONE THE WHOLE FLIGHT, in addition to the cramped seats, the bad air, the tiny bags of hamster kibble they hand out for some reason, the roar of the engines, the kid behind you kicking your seat, the person in front leaning a-l-l-l-l the way back, no way to bring your own thermos of coffee and no way in hell to get any from the flight attendants, but when you need to visit the bathroom the aisle is permanently plugged up with carts.

    You know what? I don't care what excuse they use to keep people from talking on phones. Just keep doing it.

    Anything silent: fine. Texting, MMOs, whatever. But the day I'm trapped with a self-important shouting jerk in a tin can is the day I go to jail for justifiable homicide.
  • by Spliffster ( 755587 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @12:27PM (#34954122) Homepage Journal

    My Brother is an A320 pilot. He uses his iPad, Macbook and cellphone in the cockpit evey day. They have a company cellphone which they use in flight.

    However, he says it can be very annoying and even dangerous for their RF communication if many cellphones are turned on. Ever held your cell next to a normal radio receiver? Yeah its not nice. Radio communication is just above normal radio frequencies (> 108 MHz).


Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun