What’s the truth about electronic devices and possible interference during an airline flight? We may never know. Although a recent study noted that many airline passengers never turn off their devices, lending credence to those who argue that the restriction on devices should be lifted, a report issued by Bloomberg on May 15 seems to indicate the arguing isn’t over.
The Bloomberg report cites a 2011 incident involving a regional airliner. According to the incident report on the flight, the airliner’s compasses were malfunctioning. The airliner was several miles off-course, with the crew unable to determine the cause. That is until a flight attendant managed to convince a passenger in the ninth row of the plane to turn off their iPhone.
The flight’s co-pilot, who was not identified in the report, told NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System:
The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved.
This flies — pun intended — in the face of calls to eliminate the restrictions on electronic device use during flights. As recently as late April, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) grilled the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over rules that she said appear “to not be grounded in any kind of data or evidence whatsoever.” She added that “this is a great example of a rule that really is arbitrary at this point.”
The 2011 incident would seem to belie her statement of the rules not being grounded in any kind of data.
Currently, the FAA prohibits use of electronics while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of electric razors, portable recording devices, hearing aids, and heart pacemakers. In January, the FAA appointed an advisory committee from the airline and technology industries to recommend whether — or how — to broaden the use electronics during flights. The committee’s recommendations are expected in July.
In a study released earlier this month, conducted by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association, 40 percent of passengers said they would like to be able to use their devices during all phases of a flight, including takeoff and landing. Thirty percent of passengers in that same study said they had accidentally left a device powered on during an entire flight.
Meanwhile, some airlines have been moving toward using the iPad as an electronic flight bag for their crews. That may seem inconsistent, but it’s not: In terms of wireless interference during a flight, it is believed that most is associated mostly with cellular radios. That is why iPads used by airlines are wi-fi only versions of Apple’s ubiquitous tablet.