For as long as the world has had portable electronic devices, the mass debate has continued: does our tech pose a threat to flight safety? With a greater number of services offering in-flight phone calls, the doubters appeared to have the upper hand. However, a new report claims our electronic gizmos could be hazardous after …
Load of tosh
I never turn off my cell on a plane, just set it to airplane mode. For short (less than 1 hour) flights I don't even do that.
Hello !? I'M ON THE PLANE !
"With hundreds of flights taking off every day, do such reports cause enough scare to turn your phone off on a flight? If so, don't get on a plane with me"
If you really need your phone while flying, then don't get on a plane with me.
Can we swap travel arrangements ?
"The muffled sound you hear is your correspondent now attempting to recover his equipment from his rectal cavity. We suggest sending him SMS instead, he is presently in an excellent position to enjoy the vibrations. Thank you."
Interestingly, I have been on at least 2 flights where prior to take-off a phone was ringing - owned by a member of the crew..
Why might a clock on an aeroplane "spin backwards"? Well, a modern clock that's installed in an aeroplane will presumably be designed to adjust itself to local time without manual intervention. This is presumably achieved by an interface with the plane's navigation avionics.
If this clock's display is mechanical (either hands on a face or tumblers with digits on them) then the clock will "spin backwards" by one hour whenever the plane crosses a time-zone boundary travelling westwards.
So, could this actually be an everyday phenomenon that the person who reported it was unfamiliar with?
They use UTC (coordinated universal time), not any old local time.
So slightly less likely than the successful hi-jacking of an aircraft with a pair of tweezers or nail scissors, then. Or being blown up with a carton of orange juice.
Keep this strictly entre nous, but I rather suspect that this is just another helping of security theatre. If we don't all have to take our shoes off, carry our tiny toothpastes in clear plastic bags and switch off our e-book readers (with no wireless capability whatsoever) for take off and landing then the terrorists will have *won* and then where will we be? Hmm?
@Ian Yates: do you realise that the ban on MP3 players during take off and landing has more to do with getting your undivided attention if something does go wrong than it being dangerous to the flight systems?
"IATA admitted it hasn't actually verified that any of these were caused by electronic devices, instead highlighting that crew members thought they were."... These would be the same people who repeat "Turn off your electronic devices" 200 times a day... So possibly not impartial, and certainly not a qualified RF or digital systems engineer.
Given that I can place a ringing mobile phone on top of my consumer PC, and the PC doesn't even notice, I suspect it's all bollox.
The same goes for not using phones in petrol/gas stations. Do you know what the largest cause of fire on petrol/gas station forecourts is? People pulling off the road to see what's wrong with their car when it's already on fire!
Turning off your phone
If you are flying in the US or on an American carrier and do not turn your phone off, you are in violation of an FAA regulation and liable for a $2000 fine.
Doesn't make it right though...
"In one instance, while two laptops were being used nearby, a clock spun backwards and GPS readings started going off"
Also while someone was walking along the steet eating a hot-dog, a car crashed. Car crashes are caused by fast-food....
About the evidence...
It looks like Honeywell buggered up the design of the DU3 units as both stories above (Evidence is strong) refer to the same hardware...a big cock-up there.
I guess a lot of planes have been in service for a number of years and just simply haven't been designed in mind with the recently accelerating boom in consumer electronics. I can't imagine anything new rolling out the hanger these days would fail any tests - and I guess that none of the airlines want to tell us which aircraft are too old to pass for fear they'll have to get rid of them prematurely...
Hence, the fuzzy predicament we find ourselves in... :)
The interferance happens on a new 737NG
Older aircraft are probably less susceptible, being much more mechanical.
"It looks like Honeywell buggered up the design of the DU3 units as both stories above (Evidence is strong) refer to the same hardware...a big cock-up there"
Love the fact that this reads like Honeywell have manufactured a large faulty penis in the sky ;o)
I'd be worried if...
If aeroplane equipment was so sensitive and/or badly shielded that a laptop wifi signal can upset it, how on earth does it survive all the Radar/ATC Radio/stray commercial radio (TV etc.)/higher incidence of cosmic rays at 30kft? Anywho, your bog standard airport is chock full of radios, mobile phones, laptops, etc. - and unless I am very mistaken, GPS and clocks still work for pilots when landed.
Two Words: Faraday Cage
The metallic body of an aircraft, as well as possible additions made just under the metal skin, help to protect the plane from incidental interference coming from OUTSIDE. Much like a Faraday Cage. But think of that Faraday Cage like a castle. Sure it helps keep people out, but what if the trouble you're trying to stop is ALREADY INSIDE? Radio transmissions taking place INSIDE the aircraft are not subject to the Faraday Cage and can now wreak havoc on sensitive electronics and cause inductions on nearby electrical wirings...simply by being nearby (think a moving magnet running along a wire). Many newer aircraft take this into consideration with additional internal shielding, but passenger jets tend to be bought and build with working lives spanning decades. And the whole idea of internal shielding is pretty recent, meaning there are still a lot of aircraft out there not properly equipped to handle internal EMI. Plus FAA regulations concerning electronics are unbelieveably tight: precise to prevent some Murphy moment from downing a place and the fault being traced back to a lack of oversight on their part.
A major air defence saving
Our government were just about to pay $8Bn on some stealth fighters to defend us from foreign air attacks. Now we just need a few 1000 Nokia 1100s across the North Sea and we are safe.
Good job we found out in time.
"Cell blockers have been used for years"
Ha, that's great.
Not sure if that was a deliberate troll or idiocy but proper office LOL anyway.
don't any of the multitude of devices in use in my home interfere with each other?
Several P.C's 2 of which are always on 24x7. two laptops on and off at various times of the day, 3 mobile phones, one wireless router, one ethernet switch, a couple of external USB hard drives, one CRT monitor, a couple of LCD monitors, one LCD television, one freeview box, a portable media device, HiFi system, guitar amplifier, zoom guitar effects box, midi keyboard, wireless doorbell, several digital clocks none of which run backwards and one of which synchronises with a time signal from Rugby.
Is EMF shielding too heavy for use in aircraft. Or is a scapegoat being sought for the diminishing quality of aircraft components designed to reduced cost?
As a mild attempt at humour; Most things can bring down a plane if thrown hard enough.
Most equipment is screened
"don't any of the multitude of devices in use in my home interfere with each other?"
However, electrical goods can go faulty and cause all sorts of interference, some times so bad that Ofcom will come and track you down.
"Is EMF shielding too heavy for use in aircraft. Or is a scapegoat being sought for the diminishing quality of aircraft components designed to reduced cost?"
They are not making toys.
Boeing and Airbus do not spend $15billion developing an aircraft so that passengers can act silly buggers with their toys. The develop the most fuel efficient and reliable aircraft possible using the best components they can do. Obviously testing every piece of electronic kite to be safe to use, in all the uses it may have, in every position in the aircraft is a pointless and incredibly expensive thing to do.
You can do as they say, or buy your own aircraft and do what you like, if cost is not an important issue to you.
I'm guessing none of that equipment is over 10 years old (with the possible exception of the guitar amplifier, esp. if you're a tube purist).
In contrast, commercial aircraft can remain in service for over 50 years, so we still have some planes out there that were built before I was. Even for aircraft replaced ever 20 years or so, new craft are still often built based on older designs.
I'm barely new enough to handle interference from modern electronic devices, so those older planes/designs haven't a chance.
(and BTW, your devices do interfere with each other -- your cell phones will induce signals in speakers, for example. You've probably just tuned it out.)
The devices mentioned may not interfere with each other, but I bet you can't listen to any FM radio (especially radio3 or 4 which tend to have lower modulation levels) without the audio being overlayed with all sorts of buzzes and whistles (unless you live right next to the transmitter). AM radio is almost certainly also shot. You'll struggle to hear any aircraft comms within your room if you had a suitable radio too.
You might want to check whether the "Rugby" (now Anthorn) clock is actually synchronising - I recently investigated a clock which had stopped syncing and found the problem was that it was sited within a metre of an electrically noisy BT Homehub (wi-fi, not PLT) power brick.
the airline which wants to use ipads as a replacement for their in-flight manuals is buggered then:
Captain : Take Off check list please.
First Officer: Sorry captain no can do.
Captain : What do you mean?!
First Officer: Can't use that on take off sir. In fact, would you mind turning the engines off as well? The steward reports they are interfering with one of the critical systems, Mr Coffee machine.
At least this part appears to be proper science:
'Dave Carson, a Boeing advisor, reckons portable devices radiate signals that can disrupt electronic sensors hidden in a plane's passenger area, ABC News reports.
Engineers demonstrated how hidden signals from electronic devices were far above those which Boeing considers acceptable for aircraft use. The worst offender for those signals was an iPad, although Blackberrys and iPhones also sit well over the limit, it's claimed.
Newer planes with correct sheathing shouldn't be affected, but older models could remain a problem. In those cases, according to Carson, mobile phones are a genuine safety hazard.'
So unless you have a certificate in determining the age of the plane you're in by glancing quickly at the cabin while stowing your carry-on, just turn the damned toy off unless they say you can use it.
This ties in with another anecdote I heard
From my flight instructor, who kept his phone on in case of emergencies from an ill partner at home. He said the phones didn't interfere with flight equipment but had been known to disrupt communications with baggage handlers on the ground. Since the baggage handlers are probably directly under the cabin, it could be pallet handling etc. sensors affected.
To the other poster talking about only 30 year old planes being affected, you'd be surprised how old some of the flying machines in service are!
How crap are these planes anyway ?
I really don't have a problem with turning on flight mode through the flight, after all the likelihood of getting a connection at 35K ft is miniscule. But why with 15 - 20 mins before landing do they insist on swtiching off a smartphone that i am reading a book on?
If Planes are that susceptible to interference they ought to fall out of the sky more often. What sort of scientific process is relying on a few unsubstantiated reports from pilots. They maybe able to fly but when was it requirement for a pilot to also be an RF Engineer.
They want you to pay attention.
Takeoffs and landings are the two most vulnerable points of any flight (statistically, most serious aircraft incidents--particularly CFITs or Controlled Flights Into Terrain--occur during these points). Passengers are required by national and international laws and regulations to obey the instructions of pilots during these circumstances because, should crap hit the fan and something serious but still not catastrophic happen, they need people to move and act quickly. Shutting off the electronics is a rather gentle way of the pilots saying, "Shut up and pay attention!"
I always wondered why they always hand out the newspapers and in-flight magazine after takeoff and not whilst you were getting on the aircraft.
Makes perfect sense now.
Everyone asking why stuff at home doesn't interfere...
Ever placed a GSM phone near a sound system?
du-di-du.... du-di-du... du-di-du
That wasn't expected when the sound system was designed. It also wasn't planned when GSM was designed. It is unplanned, unexpected interference.
When the potential result of something unplanned is expensive in lives, then you try not to take risks.
With the passengers being inside the plane, with the electronics, as opposed to being outside the plane's metal skin, I won't be at all surprised if cases of interference occur. When every combination of plane has been tested with every combination of kit in every seat in the plane, then we'll know what the risks really are.
Does anyone know a good supplier of STP? I want to reduce the ethernet switching hash in my flat a little to try and make 30M usable.
Mine's the one with a set of plans for a home-brew spectrum analyzer in the pocket.
Did anybody bother to read past this bit?
"IATA admitted it hasn't actually verified that any of these were caused by electronic devices, instead highlighting that crew members thought they were."
Haven't they got anything better to do than promulgate non-stories?
More important... Do I get points for using the word "promulgate?"
The article lacks serious data
There is a huge amount of variance between a phone or laptop in flight mode (i.e. not emitting anything deliberate like WiFi, Bluetooth and good ol' GSM) and one that has been left to radiate - especially cell phones crank up transmission when they are losing signal.
A transmission enabled phone I can see emit enough noise to make a mess, but I would be worried if kit switched to flight mode can do this - otherwise I can already tell what the next idiot desiring a meeting with 70 virgins/raisins is going to do..
I'm surprised by the comments
For a supposedly educated and technically literate body of readers, the ignorance of basic RF, covered in any graduate electronics course, is breathtaking.
...did an IT news website mandate that you have a particular qualification before posting?
First class traveller?
Was Bart Simpson bumped up to First Class? That's an unholy amount of legroom there!
I think people are missign the point
As articles have said, recent aircraft are designed so antennae and vulnerable wire/sensors are placed elsewhere.
It it the THIRTY YEAR OLD airicraft that are susceptible.
I turn my kit off when asked
Not because I think the plane will fall out of the sky, but because I've been asked to by the flight attendant and it's the polite thing to do. Nothing worse than sitting by some know-all tw*t who insists on keeping his phone on and has to be asked three times to turn the thing off.
Last time I was next an idiot like I quietly told him to turn it off or I would turn it into a suppository. Bingo, phone off.
My own experience...
...taking my daughter for a ride in a light aircraft and waiting for take-off clearance at a busy airport.
Me: "Control Tower. Piper Cherokee Papa Delta Echo is ready for take-off"
Tower: "Papa Delta Echo you are BEEPBEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZ CRACKLE WHIRR"
Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Say again"
Tower (distinctly annoyed): "Papa Delta BEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZBUZZ, please expedite."
At that point, I glanced at my daughter in the passenger seat, to see her having a vital "heart-to-heart" conversation with her boyfriend on her mobile. I shouted to her to stow the darn thing.
Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Sorry, getting interference. Say again".
Tower (extremely annoyed): "Papa Delta Echo BEEP BUZZZZZZZZ ... for immediate, repeat immediate take-off."
Me: "OK I think that's a clearance". Takes off.
This is what happens when you promote to incompetence.
"which pilots and/or crew believed to result from portable electronic devices."
So now, the pilots and/or crew are certified electronics engineers who make that call.
Glad to see we're in good hands.
Fact: on every flight there are many passengers that just do not turn their phones off, because they ignore or do not understand the instructions, or because they are just too lazy. Airplane manufacturers and flight operators must be insane not to take this into account. How on Earth do they accept to let flight security on travelers? As if I told my users to be good (and save company expenses) instead of having proper security in place. So my bet is that until proven harmful, turning off electronic devices is just an extraordinary measure of precaution. Just like switching the lights off during the take off and landing.
"Swiss Cheese" model
Aircraft safety is managed through a "Swiss Cheese" model. You accept that every layer of safety, however carefully implemented, will have holes in it, like a slice of Swiss cheese. You can't catch them all, so you add layer after layer, making the cheese thicker, to minimise the chance of any of the holes going right through.
There are procedures in place to minimise the use of mobile phones (one layer), systems to (hopefully) shield the aircraft systems from the mobile phones (another layer), backup procedures in case an aircraft system fails (another layer) and so on. Removing one layer will not necessarily cause a disaster - it just eats into the safety margin. However, if one of the other layers is already compromised (a tired technician forgot to secure some shielding, or a sleepy pilot didn't respond to an alarm), then you've got the makings of an accident.
There's an app for that!
I find it hard to believe RF interference could down a plane given the amount of RF that you find round airports. I remember owning a cheap walkman which would buzz every few seconds whenever I was within a few miles of Heathrow. It was only when I got near the airport that I noticed the buzz was synchronised with the rotating radar pointing in my direction... I think it's safe to assume that planes are quite well screened or the airports would be surrounded by wreckage!
Not to mention natural interference
Like: Lightning, Radiation, or static (which builds up, don't you know).
Lightning and static can have interesting effects on electronics, funnily enough. Slightly more severe than some weak RF.
Of course it did
It clearly wasn't an Apple Brand plane bought from the Apple Aviation store. You didn't think you had a choice of plane did you?
I hope I never fly with you lot
It's not the deliberate RF emissions that are the problem, it's the noise from all the digital electronics.
A friend of mine (retired from a senior position in a company making RF shielding) tells the story of a 747 in the cruise, on autopilot, that was gently rocking from side to side. After some investigating they found somebody in the first class cabin, just behind the flight deck, who was using a CD player. They got him to turn it off - aeroplane flew straight - on - plane wobbled. Better keep that off.
There's no real control over the emission levels of consumer devices, and when they are in the plane they are inside the planes Faraday cage so the level of attenuation is much less than for things outside. Most things outside are further away as well.
Maybe most devices are OK, but which ones? How does the airline tell? Even if there was a list of acceptable devices can you imagine the mayhem if the cabin staff were trying to explain that some devices were OK but others were not.
And to those who think they know better than the airlines, how many of your friends are you prepared to sacrifice to determine exactly what the risk is?
'a senior position in a company making RF shielding'.
No possibility of a conflict of interest there then
I mean, most of my mates are cool and all, but I do have a few ex-neighbours taking up unwelcome space in the old christmas-card list...
Loved the story though. Nice that the flight crew had a good, scientific approach to testing. not only checking that the wobble stopped but that it started again as well... So neat...