OMG!I took this photo below 10,000 over Iceland. I am in big trouble now?! Nope... not only did I have permission, but it was a media flight.

OMG!I took this photo below 10,000 over Iceland. I am in big trouble now?! Nope... I had permission.

Earlier in the week, I posted a time-lapse video of a Southwest flight from Denver (DEN) to Burbank (BUR) and back. Almost a year ago, I posted a similar video of an Air France video from San Francisco (SFO) to Paris (CDG). Along with the comments about how awesome the videos were, I also received quite a few angry comments, emails and tweets berating both artists for using their cameras below 10,000 feet.

First, let’s start with the facts. In both cases, the people making the videos received permission from the airline beforehand. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines are able to approve the use of electronic devices on their own aircraft. From an FAA advisory: “The related 14 CFR sections in paragraph 3 allow for the operation of PEDs [Personal Electronic Devices] that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not interfere with the navigation or communication system of that aircraft… It should be noted that the responsibility for permitting passenger use of a particular PED technology lies solely with the operator.”

Just to make sure I was not reading this wrong, I reached out to the FAA and Alison Duquette with the FAA Office of Communications confirmed to that, “The guidance states that everything should be turned off below 10.000 feet and we expect operators to follow that.” She continued with, “An airline could let someone use a video camera if they determine that there would be no interference.”

So now that we have those pesky facts out of the way, let’s talk some common sense. The rule to not allow cameras is overzealous and well… I think stupid. Do you honestly think that someone using a digital camera is going to cause any sort of interference for an airplane? Things like phones, computers, radios, are made to send and receive signals. Even with those, many have argued that they cause no real harm for airlines.

Most digital cameras, or at least mine, do not transmit anything outside of the body of the camera, they simply have a battery. I have successfully used my Canon digital camera in my house (lights didn’t short out), near my microwave (it didn’t explode), in a highly sophisticated/computerized car (didn’t lose operational control and crash), on the floor of the Boeing factory (paint didn’t catch on fire nor did engines mysteriously start & begin to run out of control), and on yes, on airplanes of all types and I’m still here writing my blog, right?

There is being careful and then there is going a little too far. As I am sure you know, airlines are extremely safe and cameras are not going to change that. With all the real issues going on in the world, being concerned about someone taking photos or video below 10,000 feet should be at the bottom of your list.

All that being said, I am not telling you to take photos below 10,000 without permission from the flight crew. Even if I might not agree with it, these are still the rules and every time I have been told that I cannot take photos I politely comply. It doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

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:
Southwest Airline’s Perspective on Aviation Geek Fest 2012

Excellent points.

The personal electronic devices rule is out of an abundance of caution. If an electronic device malfunctions and sprays radio frequency emissions all over the spectrum (whether it was intended to be a transmitter or not), it could easily interfere with frequencies used for navigation. The pilots would be too busy to troubleshoot the problem while flying an instrument approach to your destination. The occasional one device, particularly one not intended to be a transmitter, given permission is probably not going to be a problem. But if all the passengers’ devices were left on, that would vastly increase the risk something will interfere.

What are the consequences? All instrument approach procedures involve reception of radio signals. Interference with reception of a navigation radio receiver would result in the pilots abandoning the approach and going around for another approach using a different radio. It would cost the airline money and makes all the passengers arrive late on a flight that otherwise might have been on time. However, in aviation we think of risks as possible contributions to a series of events that can cause an accident – because you may not be aware that something else is also wrong at the time. Every risk factor you remove is something that wouldn’t contribute to that series of events. Judicious removal of such risk factors is indeed a part of keeping flying safe. So let’s not argue against it.

Even cars are safer for drivers who think about safety margins and mitigating risks.

“Every risk factor you remove is something that wouldn”t contribute to that series of events. Judicious removal of such risk factors is indeed a part of keeping flying safe. So let”s not argue against it.”

Funny how they`ve started to allow for cellular phones to be used on aircrafts lately… When modified, an airline such as Ryanair may allow passengers to use cellphones while inflight. Now, even if this is not allowed during take off or approach, thats not due to concerns about the signals interfering, but due to the fact that in case of crash and evacuation, passengers are not to be distracted by their Iphone apps..

Your comment is ridicolous, as I have yet to see just one commercial aircraft crash due to a passenger taking photos with a digital camera emitting radio waves because it malfunctioned (dont know what cameras you have, but last time i checked, a digital camera have no possible way of emitting anything at all strong enough to go through the ceiling in the airplane and disturb any signals, unless the battery is a nuclear reactor…… JaiKS!)

It is ridiculous the things people worry about these days. Even if every single person in the plane had a phone on it probably wouldn’t do much. If cell phones were really that big of an issue then airports wouldn’t put cell towers on the field, and they would ban use in the terminals.

I am all for shutting phones off on takeoff and landing because as you said there is no reason not to treat that critical phase of flight with anything less than an abundance of caution. If I was going to worry, it would be about how rested the pilot was, and the big bag of stuff he has on the flight deck that probably includes a laptop or other things that could distract him.

Brian T

To echo a few of the comments above, I’ve heard it said that they ask for those items to be turned off and stowed so they are more likely to have your full attention in the event of an emergency. Think about it, the majority of incidents happen during the take-off and landing phase of flight. Personally, I think it makes a bit of sense. I was on a Hawaiian Airlines flight a few weeks ago and they asked us to make sure our window shades were raised for both take-off and landing. I’m sure window shades aren’t directly responsible for crashes, but I suppose in the event of an anomolous landing or take-off, it would be nice to have enough light in the cabin to be able to see as I was trying to exit the aircraft.

With all of that said, using an electronic device of sorts with the explicit permission of the crew hardly seems like a big deal. I’d bet the rule is in place more to control the actions of the majority, and not the permissable minority.

Or go old school and use a totally non-electronic camera!

Not that is applies to cameras, but I recall there being issues with Honeywell avionics up front on some 737s because of wifi.


Chill out for sure. Noone turns off their cell phones anymore. They simply put it on silent and slip it under their leg! The FAA has specialists that maintain NAVAIDs and any other NAVAID (inflight/ground) you can think of.If they had a real safety concern they would regulate the use of electronic devices better. They also would not allow the decision to be at the operator’s (airline)discrection as published in FAR part 121.306.Just sayin…Team AR on this one.

Has anyone noticed flight attendants now telling people that “airplane” mode is not enough – that you have to turn your device off completely? Since when was that rule changed? It thought that airplane mode was made specifically to meet regulations, but my last few flights have seen attendants checking iPhones to make sure they have been powered down. What is coming next?


The rule against electronic devices is a precautionary one, and like many precautionary rules it errs on the side of saftey.

Any electronic device will be surrounded by an electromagnetic field, regardless of whether it contains a transmitter or not. This field could *potentially* in certain cases cause interference with electronics on board the aircraft. This interference could perhaps garble an ATC transmission, or corrupt the signal sent by the instrument landing system (which can also be corrupted by parking a plane in front of the antenna for example). On their own those things won’t cause a crash, but they can potentially be a part of the ‘chain of events’ leading up to a crash, where breaking just one link of the chain would prevent the crash. The point is not that is has been proved that this can or will happen, but that it hasn’t been proved that it can’t.

In the end airlines, airplane builders, and regulators have the choice between spending several years and several (tens of) millions of dollars testing all conceivable electronic devices in all conceivable scenarios to be sure their use doesn’t increase the risk of something going wrong, or they can go down the ‘better safe than sorry’ route and just ban their use.

Raul Gonzalez

That sounds interesting! How would we go about getting permission from the airline though? Would that have to be done further up the chain or can the F/As handle that situation?

Flight crew are able to give you permission.


Christian Kent

Here’s the ultimate test of this principle:

If all electronic devices have to be switched off, when are they going to include battery-powered watches, digital and analogue?

These items are not trivial to power down. Are they going to come up and down the aisles, removing batteries for you?

No. Stop being stupid. 🙂


Pilot Type


I don’t disagree with you about the chill out, but you are incorrect about receiving crew’s permission makes it legal.

First off, were you asked what brand and model of camera you had? NO. Why? Because there is no list of approved devices, Why? Because there has not been any test flights conducted by any airlines with any devices. Why? Because each device would require it’s very on take off and landing, and that is insanely and prohibitively expensive! Therefore, yes, you got permission, which is nice, but that permission is not relevant to the FAA’s directive.

“…that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not interfere with the navigation or communication system of that aircraft…” This has not been accomplished.


Hey Edward,

The testing deals with an overall approval. Like an airline to say, “everyone turn off your electronic devices except ABC, b/c we have tested it.”

Airlines are still able to individually approve devices that have not gone through the overall testing.



I have mixed feelings about this. While I agree that items such as watches (assuming it isn’t a cell-phone watch), digital cameras (not camera phones), etc shouldn’t be a problem. The rule should be that anything with a radio should be powered down, but no doubt there are too many grey areas to really police this well.

I will say that the line of reasoning stating that there hasn’t been a single case of an electronic device causing a crash is flawed. It is the same reasoning NASA used on the shuttle. “There hasn’t been one flight where the insulation coming off the tank damaged the orbiter in a way that could destroy it.” This is called “normalized deviance” and it is a cause in many disasters from Titanic to the shuttle and includes many plane crashes. So the mitigation of risk is imperative even when it is something that may seem silly. Unless you can test specifically for the effects of such devices and prove in a lab environment that they cannot cause problems, you have to remove that possible threat. The cost of doing so however is way too high so we’re stuck with the regs we have.

Well Gyng, what you say is not totally true. As an airline pilot for over 25 years with a major carrier, I have read more than a few industry reports of issues with electronic devices since Game Boy days. And the reason for having the devices turned off for takeoff and landings is those are the most critical phases of flight. The one example of the Game Boy was unusual navigation signal interference during the cruise portion of the flight. After troubleshooting and conversations with the F/A’s , it was determined that one child was playing with his toy. He was instructed to turn it off and the interference went away. It turned out the device was in an area of the aircraft that had unshielded electronics. These very same radios provide for navigation to the runway threshold in inclement weather or departure navigation after liftoff with 1/4 mile or less visibility. At a few hundred feet off the ground you do not want interference and the airplane will follow the erroneous signals and considering reaction and or troubleshooting time is nil in this realm, it’s best not to encounter it. Newer aircraft or modified aircraft can handle electronic devices but it’s not up to the passenger to determine if the aircraft they are flying in is suitable.

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