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back to article FIERY DEATH awaits all who stroke mobes mid-flight? Nope, says FAA

After pondering the issue for at least a year, America's Federal Aviation Administration has officially changed its guidance on using phones and tablet computers in-flight – and ruled they should only be put down during takeoff and landing. "The travel community is grateful, because what's good for the traveler is good for …

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Anonymous Coward

"Actually making calls on a mobile from an aircraft is still banned"

Is it just me or is this restriction just for show - I've forgotten to put my phone in Airplane mode and decided to see if I could get a signal and was unable to do so while in flight. US, AT&T, iPhone 5 in case it matters.

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Joke

@AC

You had a valid data point going, until you said you were relying on AT&T's network! :)

(BAM!!! *makes fist-pumping gesture!!*)

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What has changed?

Electronics (Kindle, laptop, iPad) OK above 10,000 feet. Air mode only.

Its been this way for years. So what's with the big hallelujah?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What has changed?

What has changed is that you do not need to switch off the device between flight level 0 and flight level 100. No more hissy fits from Alec Baldwin and his ilk. That's what's changed.

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My mobile turned itself on in my luggage one time and received texts welcoming it to russian and pacific networks for the first time. The plane didn't crash and I don't believe this can be a rare occurrence.

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Of course you wont die a fiery death

from 30,000 ft you would be pulverised.

If you use your mobile on a plane next to me I'll sit on you.

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"Actually making calls on a mobile from an aircraft is still banned"

Also it won't work. Once you are high enough, a GSM device will be unable to receive an intelligible signal due being in line of site of dozens or perhaps hundreds of cell sites. For CDMA (both Qualcomm CDMA and WCDMA 3G), the network typically will determine a device is interfering with excessive numbers of cell sites and boot the device off the network.

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Anonymous Coward

@Henry Wertz 1

You do realise that the organisations providing WiFi (GoGo and others) already cover this problem by providing voice call capability in the hardware from Panasonic et al?

I know... I've been following this trend for the last two years. Believe me, when it makes sense, voice calls will be enabled. Phone calls from planes have been around for a while, so this is not breaking new ground.

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Re: @Henry Wertz 1

I don't recall the hotspots having picocells in them as well, though I will admit it's not outside the realm of possibility. The trick would be relaying the calls, as satellite (which IINM is used for the WiFi) has a very long round trip.

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It won't stop people having GPS on, though! I confess, I've been tempted a time or two, but never gave in because of the rules. I won't start now, but that is because I'm one of the few in the population that realises that GPS (and mobile, for that matter) is radio ...

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Anonymous Coward

@Intractable Potsherd

"I'm one of the few in the population that realises that GPS (and mobile, for that matter) is radio ..."

Wow. From being reasonable to channeling jake with one sentence.

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Anonymous Coward

I've dared with a battery-powered GPS receiver (and that's the key--it's primarily a receiver, so the likelihood of interference from such a device would be negligible). Didn't last the whole flight (it was a long-haul), but it was still fascinating to plot what chunk it did pick up. These days it's not so much fun since the plane provides a flight chart as part of the VOD system.

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GPS *receives and processes* signals that are broadcast *by satellites*. A GPS emits no radio. It just crunches data on a time code.

How the metric fucking banana hell do you manage to turn passive crunching of omni-present signal data into a plea for pro-authoritarianism?

Christ on a bike, you lot are truly mad...

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"Actually making calls on a mobile from an aircraft is still banned"

Thank <insert deity here>! I read the headline and was filled with cold dread. Not because I thought I might die unpleasantly in an airplane crash, but because having to listen to people talk loudly on the phone while stuck in a metal tube would actually make me start preferring the complete failure of onboard systems and subsequent sharp, violent plummet of said tube.

Just the sound of messages being received on a Samsung Galaxy (you know - that bird whistling noise) would require a whole new word to replace the previously adequate 'air rage'.

I prefer a book as long flights are great to catch up on reading but I think this is a good thing, in line with common sense. I'm pleased they actually went back and took another look at it. Hopefully Australia follows suit.

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A load of bollocks anyway?

Last year I took my cycle gps computer (Garmon edge 605) with me and mapped the flights. OK, I had to sit next to the window to get a signal (and hidden so the cabin crew couldn't see it in my hand).

It worked brilliant, and we didn't crash!

Fire up google earth and load the following data files:

http://www.nick.ukfsn.org/main/gib/google_earth_gib_flight_out.kml

http://www.nick.ukfsn.org/main/gib/google_earth_gib_flight_home.kml

It was fascinating to watch real time speeds and altitude, plus also being able to see where we was.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: GPS

Receiving a GPS signal isn't really going to interfere with anything if you think about it.

Hint: the radio waves are already there whether or not you decide to pick them up.

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Re: A load of bollocks anyway?

I told you so!

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Re: A load of bollocks anyway?

I've one GPS that interferes with a VHF radio I use in the car. Needless to say, that GPS got replaced. I actually own a spectrum analyzer (I'm a "ham radio" operator and also a radio interference engineer) and can scan for possible radio noise, but, as with the rest of the hoi polloi (heh), rarely do more than I have to.

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The issue as I understand from having worked at a Telco with using your mobile in flight is nothing to do with crashing and burning the plane but from the fact there up several hundred people with cell phones buzzing along at 800kmh logging on and off each cell site they fly over, apparently Telcos don't like that, and it can cause issues.

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I think the problem's not as bad as people make it out. The thing with being that high up is that you're going to get LOTS of signals...and not all of them in different frequencies. The tower frequencies IINM are carefully juggled for ground use, such that two towers that cross each others' ranges don't use the same frequencies. Thing is, when you're in the air, you'll get towers from so far away that you'll inevitably run into a bunch on the same frequency, meaning crosstalk. Odds are the GSM spectrum that high up is so jumbled from all the crosstalk as to be unusable.

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Cell phones at altitude...

...is like trying to have a conversation across a gabbing large room (or across a football (soccer) pitch). The only way you can do it (if you can do it at all) is by yelling quite loud. Fortunately cell phones don't have that much power, and the cell towers are telling the offending device to (as a previous commentard said) shut itself off.

The peace and quiet in an airplane is a welcome change of pace.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cell phones at altitude...

Ummmmm. No. There is no need to shout into your phone. With Ku and Ka band backhaul, it'll be a little longer, but should be as clear as your other party to their local cell.

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Re: Cell phones at altitude...

@SP - "There is no need to shout into your phone.

It's entirely possible I am misunderstanding this but I believe that what @Herby was saying via analogy was that the mobile phone would need to transmit a stronger signal to work properly at that altitude; people needing to raise their voices to communicate over large distances being the analogy for a mobile phone and tower needing to raise the strength of the signal to do the same.

Whether that is correct or not I don't know as I have no expertise in this area but it certainly seems reasonable to me.

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Re: Cell phones at altitude...

The Federal Communications Commission here (you have Ofcom, when they're awake) forbids cellphone use while airborne only because, from that vantage, any cellphone that can snag a tower will reach hundreds of them, with detriment to the function of cellular networks.

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Boffin

What's the new relaxed rules then?

Turning off devices during takeoff and landing has been in place since 1996.

Keeping your devices with the cellphone reception OFF has also been in place since said year.

So what's new? Just the Bluetooth relaxation? Not really that much of a relaxation. Maybe this means you can watch DVDs on your lappy though; "laser devices" are banned during flight. I'd like to know if GPS is allowed … I've always wanted to get a screenshot of a GPS recording 1000 km/h speeds!

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Re: What's the new relaxed rules then?

Alas, I use proper measurements, MPH and feet.

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Re: What's the new relaxed rules then?

The basic rules have become: "You know what, there aren't really any rules anymore." Basically, apart from cell calls (which have logistics issues outside of interference), you're free to use your devices whenever you want. Just remember your priorities and pay attention to the flight attendants. Their word is still "law" on the plane, but at least they won't pester you about turning off your devices unless they're annoying others or they need your attention for something.

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Europe?

Flying this year on wonderful Ryan Air the airline that likes to say no (unless you pay), I

noticed that they only asked passengers to switch off during take off and landing instead of the whole flight.

So has Europe already relaxed the rules?

A fair number of plebs/people were using smartphones and tablets during the flight but I have no recollection of us going off course,crashing or being consumed by kerosene fueled flames.

Plus after landing I realised I had not switched my phone off at all.

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Re: Europe?

Yes, they loosened up some years ahead of the Americans.

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There is even inconstancies between airlines regarding this in Europe, i flew Ryan air and was playing a game on my phone during landing and the stewards walked up and down the plane checking people had seatbelts fasten an trays up etc but never asked me to turn of the phone but on the return trip with Easyjet they told me to put it away every time the seatbelt light came on during the flight because we had a little turbulence

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Trollface

Terrorists!!

I'm surprised so many of you are willing to publicly confess your reckless disregard for the safety of your fellow man! No doubt that rendition teams are on their way right now. If you are packing in advance of their arrival, don't worry about cold weather gear. Guantanamo Bay is still pretty warm in winter.

(Seriously--Glad to see that sanity is breaking out somewhere in DC.)

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Facepalm

Statistical analysis, probability, and data sets

Whilst I'm not supporting the rationale behind the restrictions, posting that you had your phone on, and nothing bad happened holds as much weight for justification as a driver saying he drove home drunk one night and didn't have an accident.

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dv

Re: Statistical analysis, probability, and data sets

Bollocks - I have clocked over a hundred flights across the northeastern quartersphere, and on every single one of those flights I have heard SMS beeps during landing from baggage compartments and pockets of people who forgot to switch the damn buggers off before take-off. Is that enough for a statistic?

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Re: Statistical analysis, probability, and data sets

That's better, yes!, but as in the old strawman argument, not relevent.

I was referring to people posting 'one offs' not 100's of flights.

I thought I was pretty clear!

Ho hum

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It's a wonder the flight attendants union let this slide. They are responsible for so very much of the inconvenience you encounter on mass carriers. They've been playing the safety card over anything that means doing more than pushing the booze cart for years. What used to be a fairly 'exotic' working class job has mutated into the equivalent of a flying civil service bureaucracy where more work is expended to get out of work than doing any actual work.

I honestly can't think of any restrictions on commercial passengers that are ever even mentioned, much less enforced, by the flight team on our plane. I do what I want and carry what I want and nobody says anything. For what it's worth, mobile reception is shit in the plane anyway. Flying with it on just kills the battery charge and the call is guaranteed to get dropped the second you give the order for the extraction team to cross the border start to tell the Wife you'll be late. The Iridium phones work fine though, but that only makes sense doesn't it. They've never caused any problem with the plane.

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Electronics can interfere with radio comms

If you've ever left a mobile phone near computer speakers, you've probably heard an occasional garbled interference sound from the speakers. That's electromagnetic interference from the transmitter in your phone.

The problem with radio-capable electronics is that they can similarly interfere with aircraft communications (voice comms, anyway) in the cockpit. Pilots use the radio quite a lot, both to communicate with air traffic control, and to maintain situational awareness of what else is in that airspace: other aircraft, local weather phenomena, etc. This is most critical during takeoff and landing phases.

It's grand that the aircraft systems don't cause unpleasant interference on your mobile, but that's really not the issue. The issue is that your electronics might cause interference with aircraft systems. That won't lead to a Hollywood-style in-flight explosion, but it could cause the pilot to miss hearing something important. "Was that approach clearance for us or someone else?" "Did Tower say 'cleared for 27R' or 'cleared for 27L'? Or was it NOT cleared?" "Wait, is someone supposed to go-around (instead of landing)? Are we?"

Yes, iPads and Surfaces are assigned for cockpit use at some airlines. Each such unit was flight-tested to be sure it doesn't cause interference. Not all units pass.

Source: pilots who complain about bloody mobile phone interference.

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Re: Electronics can interfere with radio comms

That's one reason CALLS still aren't allowed. It's the GSM frequencies at issue. Meanwhile, most of the WiFi comms are well out of range in the 2.4GHz or 5GHz range. In addition, especially after 9/11, the cockpit partition should be metal, which should shunt any signals from the cabin. Plus the situation could be eased further with the installation of a picocell to steer calls (or at least phones) to a particular set of frequencies.

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Re: Electronics can interfere with radio comms

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/23/nyregion/23about.html?_r=0

Well done, please.

FWIW... radio comms can interfere with electronics.

http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_10/interfere_textonly.html

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I won't say "Sorry" for stepping on your face.

The ban had less to do with modern cell phones affecting the airworthiness of the aircraft and more about passengers paying attention to what is happening around them. The two most dangerous times of a flight are the takeoff and landing including taxiing to and from the terminal. Airlines operating in the 1st world rarely fall out of the sky in the middle of the flight, but sometimes land without all of the wheels down and bang into each other while moving around an airport.  In addition, that little presentation the flight attendants do showing the safety features of the plane is mandatory and passengers should take a few minutes to note where the emergency exits are and continue to pay attention even if they know how to operate a seat belt. When the plane stops in an emergency they want you off the plane in 90 seconds or less. My goal will be to be first down the slide. If you are in my way looking around for that exit, I will go through you very impolitely.

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Re: I won't say "Sorry" for stepping on your face.

Don't worry - the idiots not paying attention will be incapacitated by their gadgets smacking them in the face as the emergency landing happens. I *never* have anything harder than a newspaper in front of me whenever the seatbelt sign is on.

However, if you survive being smacked in the face with your mobile but try to take your luggage off with you, I *will* make you a casualty ...

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Headmaster

Hmm.... I am sure that I am not the only one who is highly relieved........

........ that making actual calls will still be banned. Can you imagine it? Trapped on the "Red-Eye" to NY next to some arse howling "I'm on the plane, no not the train - the plane" for the entire flight? We definitely need a "Thank insert-your-choice-of-Deity-here-icon".

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Unhappy

Always wondered how many *actual* incidents started this BS

Seriously.

Radio signals to disrupt the flight navigation system is the plot of "Dr No."

It was BS then as well.

AFAIK all the remaining radio nav aids work nowhere near cell phone frequencies.

OTOH as others have pointed out using the ground infrastructure has 2 problems.

1) Modern cells in big cities are small. There range is fairly short.

2) A modern jet moves in and out of individual cell tower range in <1 sec. This will generate a "packet storm" in their back bone management network.

So logically the airlines will set up a picocell in the cabin. Probably in the same way you can make in flight sat phone calls.

Now setting up the link between the aircraft and the ground from that could get tricky.

I will leave the security implications of several hundred airborne "choke points" having access to 1000s of (presumably) premium ticket passengers mobile devices for potentially several hours every day to others better qualified for the subject.

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Re: Always wondered how many *actual* incidents started this BS

Of course it's all silliness. Electronics in both planes and ships are designed with preventing interference in mind. Can you imagine the clusterfuck it would be if they weren't? The electronics onboard aren't impacted by the thousands of mobiles around them at the terminal, do people think that the avionics don't work on the ground? You can be assured they do.

Busy harbors are the same way and much of the electronics systems in use are nearly identical, functionally, to those on a plane. If cell phones screwed up electronics in ships in the harbor we'd have known about it a long time ago.

As you can see by all the panicky responses on here, people don't think things through. The FAA knows that and caters to them by attempting to eliminate any idea of risk. Even though a bird strike is far more likely to cause a plane crash (that's what caused the crash I was in) 'the people' would be livid if the FAA 'wasn't doing their job'. It's all about making the people feel safe. The people are safe, and many engineers work hard to assure that, but if the government doesn't do 'more safe' then they're in trouble.

It's all silly and it's all caused by a lack of education. Sad really.

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Re: Always wondered how many *actual* incidents started this BS

http://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/aero_10/interfere_textonly.html

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Re: Always wondered how many *actual* incidents started this BS

But recall that most planes and ship have hulls...METAL hulls. These hulls can act as electromagnetic shields to protect against EMI.

But they're worth sod all against interference from INSIDE, and that's been the issue with the planes, especially the OLDER ones built before cell phones and the like existed, let alone were commonplace. As noted, placing a GSM phone against a running loudspeaker as it receives a call DOES produce noticeable clicks and like, a clear sign of some RFI, and there has been a number of anecdotal stories about instrument wackiness being distinctly dependent on the function of a passenger's phone.

As noted, until recently, the FAA wanted to act with an overabundance of caution, but it ended up taking much too much flak for it, thus the about-face.

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This article read a little different

FAA to allow use of electronic devices during 'all phases' of flight

Passengers will be able to keep phones on, although they must be set to 'airplane mode' or have cellular service disabled

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/31/faa-electronic-devices-airplane-flights

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Anonymous Coward

Virgin Atlantic are encouraging use of mobile phone in flight

I can't reconclie the above discussions with my experiences of the last two weeks.

Virgin Atlantic charge roaming rates for in-flight use.

WiFi must be disabled before take-off if you want to use their roaming connection during flight.

So there is inherently nothing unsafe about using GSM in the plane.

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Nothing unsafe? Don't be so sure...

Effects of Interference from Cellular Telephones on Aircraft Avionic Equipment

"In October 2002, a set of avionic equipment was tested under controlled conditions in a test

chamber for susceptibility to cellphone interference. General aviation avionic equipment,

representative of earlier analogue and digital technologies, was used. The equipment,

comprising a VHF communication transceiver, a VOR/ILS navigation receiver and associated

indicators, together with a gyro-stabilised remote reading compass system, was assembled to

create an integrated system.

The tests covered the cellphone transmission frequencies of 412 (Tetra), 940 (GSM) and

1719MHz, including simultaneous exposure to 940 and 1719MHz. The applied interference

field strengths were up to 50 volts/metre for a single frequency, and 35 volts/metre for dual

frequencies.

The following anomalies were seen at interference levels above 30 volts/metre, a level that

can be produced by a cellphone operating at maximum power and located 30cms from the

victim equipment or its wiring harness.

• Compass froze or overshot actual magnetic bearing.

• Instability of indicators.

• Digital VOR navigation bearing display errors up to 5 degrees.

• VOR navigation To/From indicator reversal.

• VOR and ILS course deviation indicator errors with and without a failure flag.

• Reduced sensitivity of the ILS Localiser receiver.

• Background noise on audio outputs.

Most anomalies were observed at 1719MHz.

The project was managed by UK CAA and assisted with loaned equipment and personnel from

Vodafone PLC, CSE Aviation (Oxford), and BAE SYSTEMS (Woodford)."

Of the problems above, those that affect ILS (Instrument Landing System) are the ones you really don't want to have while landing in bad weather, only just above the minima...

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Re: Nothing unsafe? Don't be so sure...

What does any of that have to do with the article?

"the FAA has ruled that so long as devices don't use radio or cellular connections then there is no danger in using them"
Did you miss that part? The FAA aren't suggesting there is "nothing unsafe" about using electronic devices with cellular/radio capabilities in flight, just that it is safe to use them with those capabilities disabled. However, having said that, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that devices with cellular/radio capabilities are being used, or at least forgotten to be disabled, in flight and yet there are still no 500mph tubes of fiery doom plummeting from the skies.

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Re: Nothing unsafe? Don't be so sure...

Calm down, calm down, Shades...

The OP said: "So there is inherently nothing unsafe about using GSM in the plane."

I replied: "Nothing unsafe? Don't be so sure... "

No need to get so hot under the collar.

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