Gadgets on a Plane Pose Some Risk, Report Says

As an airplane prepares for takeoff or landing, frequent fliers are given explicit instructions to follow: Make sure your seat beat is securely fastened around your waist. All tray tables must be in the upright and locked position. Anything with an on-off switch must be turned off.

If you’ve been ignoring that last instruction, you’re not alone, according to USA Today. The newspaper reported yesterday the findings of its investigation into airline passengers’ willingness to follow instructions regarding electronic devices. The paper found that many passengers continue to use their mobile gadgets even when specifically told to stop.

Based on its findings, flight attendants have a legitimate reason to instruct passengers to power off mobile gadgets during takeoff and landing, the paper says. Such devices “emit radio signals that can interfere with cockpit instruments and flight systems,” according to the report.

The probability of electromagnetic interference (EMI) happening is small and hasn’t been cited as the cause of a fatal U.S. airline accident. However, “pilots have reported incidents in which they suspected EMI caused cockpit instruments to go haywire,” potentially causing or contributing to some military aircraft accidents and a fatal 2003 charter flight in New Zealand, the paper reports.

USA Today reported a few other anecdotes as examples:

* On a regional jet flight, the pilots' directional indicators "suddenly went haywire, leading the airliner 4 miles off course. After the confused pilots asked passengers to make sure their electronics were off, the cockpit instruments returned to normal."

* During the departure of a flight from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina, "there was such a loud buzzing on the pilots' radios that they could barely hear controllers. The captain warned passengers that if they didn't turn off all devices, the plane would have to return to the airport. After 'nearly the entire plane' checked their electronics, the noise stopped and the flight continued."

The USA Today investigation “reviewed thousands of pages of technical documents and surveyed hundreds of frequent fliers,” the paper states. USA Today reviewed more than 25 documents from electronics experts as well as “presentations, papers and advisories by government aviation officials in the USA, Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe; congressional testimony; and Boeing research and information for airlines.”

Also included in the report were “a review of government accident reports and airline pilots' incident reports; a survey of more than 900 frequent fliers; and interviews with Boeing, NASA and independent electromagnetic interference (EMI) experts, flight attendants and pilots unions, and college electrical engineering professors.”

Bottom line: Even though you think the risk is non-existent, you should follow flight attendants’ instructions to turn off your gadgets. That includes you, Alec Baldwin.


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