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Does Electronic Device Use During Takeoff and Landing Really Matter?


" “Just turn it off."

If you're flying this holiday season, it's very likely you'll hear "Excuse me, madame (or sir), please turn off that device." But a new investigation suggests that you shouldn't grumble while powering down or ignore the rule as it really could interfere with cockpit equipment.

With American Airlines recently getting the green light to use iPads during takeoff and landing, passengers have more and more been questioning if it's necessary to power down. An investigative study conducted by USA Today says yes. Yes, it is still necessary.

USA Today evaluated "25 papers by electronics experts; 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." The investigation also found a significant number of people disobeying the rule.

USA Today has more:

"Any device with a battery — including cellphones, e-readers, laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and Game Boys — has some level of emission that has the potential to interfere with cockpit instruments or navigational equipment," says Boeing engineer Dave Carson.


Carson says most devices used "in aggregate or independently" by passengers would not meet the RTCA's DO-160 standard, which sets emission standards for airborne equipment.

At the same time, USA Today reports some electronics experts as saying they are not concerned over the level of electromagnetic interference emitted.

Here are some of USA Today's findings from document review:

  • In a March 2001 service letter to airlines, Boeing said it received "various reports of anomalies in airplane communication and navigation systems that operators suspected were caused by interference from passenger carry-on electronic devices."
  • USA TODAY's analysis of NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System, which lets airline employees report incidents confidentially, reveals that pilots and an air traffic controller reported 32 incidents of electronic device interference with aircraft systems from January 2001 through Dec. 2, 2011.
  • A pilot of a Canadair CRJ-200 regional jet reported compass system malfunctions after takeoff at an altitude of about 9,000 feet on a flight last May. The pilot says a passenger had an iPhone in standby mode; when the phone was turned off, the compass system operated properly.

Here's a Fox 40 news report on the study:

Fox 40 reports Ernesto Martinez, a pilot himself who has used an iPad in the his cockpit personally, as saying that if a large number of people were using their electronics on the plane the interference could effect the cockpit. “Just turn it off, because you are really putting your life at risk,” Martinez said according to Fox 40.

[H/T Fox News]

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