Cockpit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Cockpit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Uh oh, is that electronic device authorized?

“Sit down, shut up and turn off your electronic devices!” Okay, it is not really that bad, but sometimes I get pretty annoyed when I have to turn off my personal electronic device (PED) during taxi. I am a spoiled American and if we are delayed on the tarmac for take off, not having access to my precious electronic devices is difficult. So why the heck are you required to turn your devices off anyhow? And can they really bring down a plane?

If something happens to the plane and you are on above 10,000 feet, you have time. Time to try to navigate to an airport, time to put your toys away before landing. When you are below 10,000 feet things need to happen quickly and it is more dangerous.

One of the important reasons you have your devices off, is to make sure you are paying attention. First you need to pay attention to the flight attendants giving their safety announcement (they don’t do it for fun). Secondly, you should be paying attention to your surroundings. If the plane catches on fire while taxiing out, you need to be ready to react, not listening to the newest Justin Bieber song (is he still “cool” — I dunno). You also need to be able to get out of the plane as soon as possible. If there are cords and cables in the way and your neighbor is distracted, that can slow things down, causing people injury or possibly death.

Next are those pesky electronic signals. All electronic devices give off some sort of signal that could interfere with the cockpit. Even the Federal Aviation Administration isn’t too sure how much these signals affect the avionics in an airliner, but are playing it safe. The FAA’s website states site, “there are still unknowns about the radio signals that portable electronic devices and cell phones give off.”

Airplane manufacturers, airlines and the FAA work together to make sure that any electronic equipment that might go into an airplane will not cause it harm. According to Flight Global, recently on board Wi-Fi tests resulted in some Honeywell avionics to react adversely. This goes to show that yes, electronic equipment can affect instruments, but it also shows that rigorous testing by all those involved make sure that these sort of things won’t happen past the testing phase. Currently all those involved are working together to find the cause and a solution.

Yes, it might be annoying to put your devices away, but I think there are some very valid reasons for doing so. Next time you are on a flight and you hear the call to turn off your devices, be a good sport and do as you are told.

For more information and quotes from Boeing, Virgin America and the FAA, check out my story on AOL Travel News.

 

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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38 Comments

I find it incredibly stupid when they tell me to turn off my book reader. I can understand shutting off cell phones and Blackberries, but book readers?

Who knows? Since it most often happens on an AA MD-80, maybe they are just jealous that the boo reader is more sophisticated than their flight deck. 🙂

I think it is more about the numbers. A few might not cause problems, but 100 might. The big thing it seems is no one knows for sure and they aren’t willing to take the chance — yet.

David

Kristen

It’s easier to say all electronic devices than all electronic devices followed by a list of acceptable ones. Once they let you leave your book reader on someone with an ipad who is reading a book wants to leave theirs on and so on and so on.

Flight attendants have so much to do in the time from boarding to take off, do you really want them to have to check each device or do you expect the public to police itself? I’d rather get on the plane and in the air quickly, don’t drag out the boarding/safety demo/taxi time any longer than it already is!

I can understand paranoia during the take off and landing phases of flight since these are typically the most critical and most prone to incidents.

“In preparation for landing, please stow your tray tables and turn off all pacemakers until we’re safely on the ground.”

Sir,

Your reasoning is seriously flawed.

First, your argument that we should not be allowed to use electronic devices to avoid distraction makes no sense on its face. If we shouldn’t be distracted, then we should be required to put away books and magazines and stop all conversation. And if electronic devices are a distraction, why do JetBlue, Continental, and the major carriers let me use seat-back video during takeoff? Why does the radio play via the armrest?

As for the notion that headphone cords might restrain me in the event of an emergency exit – what about the 2″ thick belt strapped over my waist? I can’t imagine a scenario in which someone urgently fleeing a burning plane will be held back by 1/4″ audio cable.

Finally, you present the risk of interference from wireless devices, which seems more reasonable. However, even that is a specious argument. If the risk from electronic devices in the on position is so great, then why are they even allowed on the plane? I frequently see people leave their devices on despite the warning, and I have often forgotten to turn off a phone left in the overhead bin. If we don’t allow steak knives or scissors on a plane, than surely we should be precluding tiny devices far more stealthy and dangerous. And if the device truly interfered with the systems, wouldn’t that interference begin the moment we pushed back from the gate?

Truly, this archaic regulation is more a byproduct of regulatory intransigence and inertia than reasoned risk management.

Hey Roogan,

Sure, there are always going to be distractions and always going to be people that aren’t paying attention. But I think it comes down to the fewer people who are distracted and the fewer things that can get in the way, the better.

I think the idea of people having their own headphones on and not being able to hear anything going on around them is a pretty big safety concern. Even if you are listening to the in flight entertainment, any announcements will overpower its sound.

David

Dave Paisley

I think you mean to say that if you’re listening to the IFE they can and do interrupt it to provide cabin announcements over the system itself. Until PEDs get smarter they can’t do that on those.

That said, it’s still mostly obsessive caution – you can be more seriously hampered and injured in an evacuation by a ballpoint pen wielded by someone doing a Sudoku puzzle than someone wielding an iPhone.

Agreed. Even with the Honeywell Wi-Fi tests and the screens blanking, doesn’t mean the airplane would crash, just would have to use back up systems.

In response to Roogan’s comment, I’ve never flown B6, but on VX whenever there was a passenger announcement, a box would pop up on the screen, interrupting whatever entertainment was going on, that says “passenger announcement in progress” or something to that effect. The main theme is that they want you to listen to the safety briefings and announcements so that you at least know what to do in an emergency.

I also agree with you, Dave, that as for device-powering-down, it’s an obsessive caution.

Kristen

Using on-flight entertainment is much different – the flight crew has the ability to silence them and force you to listen to their announcements.

And complaining that a seat belt would hinder you…seriously! Seat belts serve a purpose and are designed to be quickly unlatched and not tangle. Imagine if you were sitting next to a teenager blocking the aisle with their computer plugged and tangled audio wires. It could be a nightmare to get past them.

Ford the private pilot guy

Bravo! Brilliant post. Agree 100%

Ford the private pilot guy

Meant to say, agree with Roogan 100%

If the first point (paying attention) were true the flight attendants would ask everyone to stow all reading material too.

But reading material can’t hinder your hearing. Compared if you are listening to your iPod or movie.

David

I was wondering why you’re allowed to film, using a camera, during take-off and landing? I think it’s because you’re still looking outside but I’m not sure… Anyone know why?

Technically you are not supposed to have cameras on below 10,000 feet. However, I have found that most flight attendants are not as strict about that rule.

David

Yes, only once I got told I wasn’t allowed to film the take-off

Some airlines, like Ryanair won’t allow you to film during the whole flight. Don’t think it is a safety thing, but them just being them.

David

I never experienced that… Weird indeed.

Probably because RyanAir is still studying how to charge people for the right to film stuff during flight.

cedarglen

The engineers at the manufacturers and the FAA know a good bit more about this than we do. They are also extremely cautious folks – in an effort to protect OUR safety. With that in mind, some still while, piss and moan about giving up their devices for a few minutes. Here’s why:
1.At the moment, it is the LAW.
2.You have been politely asked to turn it (them) OFF.
3. If 1 and 2 are not good enough for you, get off the friggin airplane!

The Honeywell DU blanking occurred during STC testing for Aircell’s Gogo Wi-Fi solution, after the aircraft was delivered. Many believe the DUs should never have passed qualification or certification in the first place.

Thanks Mary.

I take it you are still covering that story? It seemed like they were just turning off the Wi-Fi instead of actually figuring it out?

David

Yes, it’s my understanding that they’ve got that particular issue figured out (the blanking does not occur with mod 2 or the upgraded mod 4 Honeywell DUs, I’m told so it appears isolated in that regard). However, this was a shot across the bow that all avionics need to meet stringent electro magnetic interference tests, so Boeing is rather meticulously scrubbing the other avionics parts numbers. The incident begs the larger question – why wasn’t this discovery made before the aircraft rolled off the line? Nice story on AOL, btw.

Troy the Airline Pilot Guy

David, as an airline pilot, this topic comes up often.
In the cockpit, even one cell phone accidentlly left on (usually by one of us pilots) can make that terrible interference noise in our headsets that you here sometimes when you get your phone too close to your computer. You know, the one that sounds like getting online with a dial-up Internet connection. This can (and has) prevented hearing potentially important instructions from Air Traffic Control with a single phone. Most aircraft utilize navigation radios that are also on the VHF frequency band. While I’m no electronics expert, I think that non-transmit and receive type Personal Electronic Devises don’t pose a risk with any single device, I believe the fear is that the combined electromagnetic interference of say 100 PEDs of your choice could potentially cause interference with the navigation radios. Forgive me for speaking for you, but when you and I are descending between the mountains in the clouds using only our instruments, we don’t want on-board navigation (or pilots) to think we are somewhwere other than where we actually are.

Troy the Airline Pilot Guy

Pardon my auto correct helping me out, that is “hear”

Since you asked…Some might argue that Justin Bieber was never actually cool. However I agree with your post…it’s always best to just follow directions and fly safe!

Thank you for the article. I am also a pilot for a national airline.
I can confirm what Troy the Pilot is saying. We do get the static from cell phones on our radios. So we know when people are on the cell phones. Even text messaging or data transmissions from smart phones cause this. On a recent flight I had this happen no less than 10 times during landing.
Of bigger concern is the new 4G LTE type networks. This type of 4G uses frequecies that are almost the same as GPS. All the GPS manufacturers are very concerned about the LTE networks interfering with GPS signals.
All things aside, when the flight attendant asks you to turn off your electronics there is only one thing you need to do. Please turn your them off. Ignoring the flight attendant is selfish and rude.
To all my future passengers, thank you in advance!

Steven Ravine

Several years ago, an airline crew flying a Boeing 757 was faced with a flight violation. They put forward the novel defense that the airplane’s autoflight system screwed up because a passenger had a cell phone (or something) on. It wasn’t the pilots fault, it was weird electronic interference by some electronic gadget in the back of the bus. Well, the FAA was stumped and bought the crew’s line of defense. Then the Feds do what they do best: screw everyone because they are not sure about something. It’s the “safe” thing to do. When in doubt, restrict it! The idea that interference above 10,000′ is fine, but not below 10,000′ is absurd. The Feds have no clue and just pulled a number out of thin air to justify the restriction. If electronic interference has ever been identified as a primary cause of an accident or incident, passengers would have to check all gadgets in checked baggage and remove all batteries.

Hey Steven,

The 10,000 isn’t related to there being no interference above that altitude. It is high enough where if something were to malfunction, the pilots would have enough altitude to fly safely to an airport and land.

David

Ford the private pilot guy

One of my senior flight instructors told me that regardless of any problems cell phones can cause to the flight itself, cell phone signals can disrupt cell tower functions on the ground by binding the attention of numerous cell towers because of being at a high altitude. Before I knew about this rule I would fly my private plane all the time with my cell phone on. Never experienced static in my headset or suffered a gps malfunction or Ny other extremely unlikely events attributed to electronic devices. If any disruption were at all likely we would be required to give all these devices up at security check points.

Steven Ravine

Oh, please. If, as suggested by previous posts concerning interference with the GPS system, a malfunction of the nav system occured, how many miles off course would a flight be after a six-hour over-water flight above 10,000′? Altitude has nothing to do with the restriction other than a number pulled out of the FAA’s collective rear. Additionally, 10,000′ is an FAA favorite number. Remember the sterile cockpit rule and the speed limit of 250 kts?

somekid

so wait you do not know if a plane could malfunction or not between take-off, and landing? i consider that more dangerous than having a cell phone or electronic device on. that’s like playing with death, waiting to die.

somekid

i’m all in all confused. you are allowed an electronic device after 10,000 ft, but not at 10,00 ft, or anything below 10,000 ft….i can understand if it interferes with the pilots headset and such, but if that’s the case why can you use them after 10,000 ft? also just randomly throwing it out there, I’ve been on 3 planes within the past couple of days, the first time was good, the second and third time, i kept getting those roller coaster feelings, why?

Hello, i am a airoplane waitrous.
The reason we have to turn electronic things off is because we like people to listen to the instructions and pay attention to the saftey show at the front of the plane and also so it doesnt ring on the plane and distract the driver. I dont know why we have to turn them off but its wierd because the tv is allowed on but that runs on electricity so im not shore about that.

Lilly

SeaDragonST

What about the Ipads some pilots use as EFB?

Airbus is making even their own EFB App for All aircraft up to the A340-600.

Honestly if pilots are allowed to fuck around with an Ipad for their work, why shouldn’t I?

Also some use the WIFI + 3G models, and the FAA allows this to be switched on so pilots can get the latest SATNAV, Winds aloft and WX information as well.

Niko

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