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Airport Takeoff/Landing Rule for Gadgets May Be Nuked by 4Q13

By - Source: The New York Times | B 26 comments

The group is investigating gadget use during flight and will reveal its results in July.

If you've flown on an airplane over the last decade or so, you've certainly scoffed at the silly rule that dictates you switch off all electronics during takeoff and landing. There really doesn't seem to be a need in doing so, especially if the device is set to airplane mode, which essentially turns off all radio-based input and output.

On the way back from CES 2013, a pilot riding standby next to me said there's no real reason why passengers must turn off their devices. The only valid reason he could think of was the amount of incoming and outgoing transmissions per plane that could possibly interfere with the tower. With around 200 passengers on board, that's a lot of incoming and outgoing signals for one vehicle. Now multiply that with the number of airplanes ready to land or takeoff.

But, even with the rule in place, many passengers ignore the request and place their device in silent or airplane mode (guilty). Although the overall input/output may be reduced, it's not going to be eliminated completely unless the airline actually confiscates every device like pieces of luggage. That, of course, would be suicide for an already stumbling airline industry.

"So it's O.K. to have iPads in the cockpit; it's O.K. for flight attendants — and they are not in a panic — yet it's not O.K. for the traveling public," said Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri. "A flying copy of 'War and Peace' is more dangerous than a Kindle."

The problem with the takeoff/landing electronics rule, which was established by the Federal Aviation Administration, is that the government has provided no real evidence that device use interferes with the plane's avionics. Because of this lack of evidence, an industry group set out last year to see if electronic gadget interference was just a myth.

Unfortunately, it looks as if phones will continue to be on the "off list" during arrival and departure, but consumers may discover by the end of the year that their tablets and other reading devices may be permitted to stay powered on. This industry group – which is made up of people from Amazon, Boeing and other aircraft makers, the CEA, FCC and others – plans to introduce its findings on July 31.

The New York Times has received one of the group's internal documents that describes its objectives, one of which ensures that flight attendants do not have to be the social police regarding devices. The group is also trying to determine what "airplane mode" actually means, and to make sure whatever new rules are adopted will be applied to devices not on the market today.

The FAA needs to update its rules for an age of wearable computers. As the paper points out, many passengers are flying with devices that track your daily activity. By the end of the year, they'll sport devices like Google Glass and possibly Apple's iWatch. The computer has moved beyond the desktop and notebook form factors.

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  • 4 Hide
    icepick314 , March 28, 2013 7:09 AM
    I never turned off my devices during takeoff and landings...just on standby with screens off...

    EVERYONE should pay attention to the pre-flight announcements for emergencies, though...

    keep eyes on the nearest exit, how to prepare for emergency landing, what to expect during emergencies, how to put on the oxygen masks, and where the floatation devices are...those you should get to know before take-off...
  • 1 Hide
    cookoy , March 28, 2013 7:44 AM
    I do as i'm told. Better safe than sorry. Calls and messages can wait until i'm safely on the ground.
  • 0 Hide
    toadhammer , March 28, 2013 7:47 AM
    For phones, if the issue is too many on and trying to hit the local cell tower, there are solutions. It's relatively cheap to put a pico cell on a plane, if they can find the space. Think of it as the cellular equivalent of those phones embedded in the seat backs.

    And, the cellular version of this has existed (tested, everything) for several years. I can think of trials as far back as 2007.

    Edit: I work as a software engineer for a manufacturer of cellular network equipment.
  • Display all 26 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    vmem , March 28, 2013 8:03 AM
    cookoyI do as i'm told. Better safe than sorry. Calls and messages can wait until i'm safely on the ground.


    But do you go around and make sure everyone sitting around you does the same? probably not? then chances are at least half of them just put their devices on standby. if having the devices on actually caused any realistic interference, just turning your own devices off isn't going to save anyone, just inconvenience yourself. as the article states, the only ways it'll work is if they confiscated all electronic devices, or to just let people use them
  • 4 Hide
    whiteodian , March 28, 2013 8:17 AM
    The odds that all 78 of the passengers who travel on an average-size U.S. domestic flight have properly turned off their phones are infinitesimal: less than one in 100 quadrillion, by our rough calculation. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10000872396390444273704577637703253402734.html
    I do think the Mythbusters determined that it is plausible that the devices would interfere. Better safe than sorry, but according to the statistics, it doesn't matter because it never happens.
  • 1 Hide
    SirGCal , March 28, 2013 8:49 AM
    That's why I don't fly... Not that I can with my condition anyhow (Aggressive MS). But it's so annoying to fly the last few times I did, I'd rather take an extra day and drive. Going overseas maybe but... Sick of the air travel crap. Show up 2 hours before your flight, it's still 2 hours late taking off. Most of the time I really could have driven there faster anyhow (and cheaper)...
  • 3 Hide
    Anomalyx , March 28, 2013 8:51 AM
    Nobody obeys the "turn your gadgets off" order anymore anyway. Every single flight I've been on in the last few years, I see someone with their phone out, texting during takeoff and landing. Just because a rule exists doesn't mean people follow it (just look at crime rates these days). If they were to cause a problem, a plane would have crashed by now.
  • 0 Hide
    SchizoFrog , March 28, 2013 9:03 AM
    It's not just in the US either. I regularly fly between the UK and Germany and I just make sure I don't sit in the first few rows of seats or those rows further back where the flight attendants stand for the safety briefings so I keep my phone on (silent) and my MP3 player playing...

    As for the safety briefings, I treat them as a General treats plans during war. The best laid plans go out the window once battle is joined. It's all about adapting to the exact situation you face. If I am involved in a crash and there happens to be a hole in the side of the aircraft that I can escape through, you better believe I am not going to follow the illuminated arrows to the nearest exit. I'm going out through the hole and taking anyone injured that I can, with me...
  • 1 Hide
    house70 , March 28, 2013 9:05 AM
    I always put the phone on airplane mode; that being said, I find it utterly stupid to have to put my e-reader away. WTF, it has NO radio on it, it's just a screen with a battery.
    Rules need to adapt to technology, not fight it.
  • 1 Hide
    g-unit1111 , March 28, 2013 9:31 AM
    icepick314I never turned off my devices during takeoff and landings...just on standby with screens off...EVERYONE should pay attention to the pre-flight announcements for emergencies, though...


    $10 says no one ever will when this ban is lifted. :lol: 
  • -2 Hide
    basketcase87 , March 28, 2013 10:09 AM
    whiteodianI do think the Mythbusters determined that it is plausible that the devices would interfere. Better safe than sorry, but according to the statistics, it doesn't matter because it never happens.

    My memory is a bit fuzzy on it, but I think Mythbusters showed some active cell phones interfering with certain equipment. Also, that was a number of years ago, and Mythbusters doesn't exactly perform scientific studies, they're just stunt guys making a TV show.
  • 1 Hide
    toadhammer , March 28, 2013 10:13 AM
    toadhammerFor phones, if the issue is too many on and trying to hit the local cell tower, there are solutions. It's relatively cheap to put a pico cell on a plane, if they can find the space. Think of it as the cellular equivalent of those phones embedded in the seat backs.And, the cellular version of this has existed (tested, everything) for several years. I can think of trials as far back as 2007.Edit: I work as a software engineer for a manufacturer of cellular network equipment.
    And I meant, tested on planes, multiple trials, multiple airlines, multiple countries over the last 6 years. It's safe. If signal interference was a problem, the trials would have stopped as soon as they started. The restriction on using your device as a phone at 10000 ft is more of an FCC issue than an FAA issue. Putting a cell on the place solves that. It's just a matter of agencies being very slow to grant approval.

    Oh - I forgot to add that there are several airlines around the world who explicitly allow service, and that one of the remaining items are the serious social issues involved, and those are probably what is holding things back. No one wants to be on a long flight with a seatmate yakking on their phone the whole time. I'm personally betting that the rules will quietly go through allowing wifi access and similar simple devices, while somehow still banning voice.
  • 0 Hide
    ddpruitt , March 28, 2013 10:49 AM
    Question isn't if it's a stupid ban, question is "If it's a one in a million shot that a device takes out an airplane are you willing to take the chance it's your plane?"
  • 1 Hide
    gm0n3y , March 28, 2013 10:55 AM
    toadhammerone of the remaining items are the serious social issues involved, and those are probably what is holding things back. No one wants to be on a long flight with a seatmate yakking on their phone the whole time. I'm personally betting that the rules will quietly go through allowing wifi access and similar simple devices, while somehow still banning voice.

    I'm betting on this. It's one thing to allow people to use their devices when they are at cruise altitude as they won't have cell access anyway. If they allowed people to use their phones while waiting for the plane to takeoff, it could be mayhem. A couple of hundred people in a small enclosed space all shouting over top of one another. I agree that everything but voice calls should be allowed.
  • 1 Hide
    TeraMedia , March 28, 2013 10:55 AM
    Here's one mythbusters result:
    http://mythbustersresults.com/episode49

    But then here's another:
    http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/mythbusters/mythbusters-database/cell-phones-interfere-plane-instruments.htm

    It looks like the problem is that too many towers can see and hear the phone.

    Personally, if the problem is one of too many towers being able to "see" and "hear" a phone, then I think they should put technology into the phone so that it pops up a warning and then unless intervention goes into airplane (which would be defined as turning off the cellular transmitter) mode automatically. The FCC could mandate this for future phones. And then any phone with this feature would be allowed to be turned on and left on when on a plane, because it would self-manage to prevent channel hogging. This isn't the FAA's problem; why involve them at all? The FCC licenses every radio transmission and reception device that is allowed in the US. Why not just enforce a better design?
  • 2 Hide
    ubercake , March 28, 2013 11:01 AM
    Hey... I'm just glad they're letting us bring knives on planes again.

    On the other hand, who has use for a knife on a plane?
  • 2 Hide
    toadhammer , March 28, 2013 11:50 AM
    TeraMediaIt looks like the problem is that too many towers can see and hear the phone.
    This is why it's an FCC issue.

    TeraMedia...unless intervention goes into airplane...mode.... The FCC could mandate this for future phones.
    They could, but if they just put the equivalent of a cell tower on the plane, it will "capture" those mobiles, tell them to lower their RF power levels so they only reach the plane's nearby picocell. And can be set to bar calls during safety presentation, takeoff, whatever. It's a solution of commerce, rather than regulation, can be rolled out much faster than obsoleting every phone in existence, and airlines get to buy the picocell best matching their business needs/marketing/etc. *And*, they get to charge a premium for service, rather than passing up that money if the phones are self-denying access.
  • 1 Hide
    InvalidError , March 28, 2013 11:51 AM
    Most of the critical wiring in a plane is under the aluminum floor which provides de-facto shielding against most of what can possibly come from the passenger cabin... and most of it is near/under the cockipt too.

    In "older planes", most critical controls use cables and/or hydraulics so even setting off EMPs would have no effect. For the newer fly-by-wire planes, logic dictates that every piece of digital instrumentation and control equipment should use packet-based communications with CRCs and/or FEC and re-send mechanism to detect and correct transmission errors whatever their cause might be.

    So unless a plane has fatal flaws in its electrical instrumentation/control systems, a little (or even a lot of) interference should not make any difference as long as it does not get to the point of preventing timely communications between subsystems.
  • 1 Hide
    punahou1 , March 28, 2013 1:33 PM
    The myth of interference was busted many years ago. Its about time this foolish rule is eliminated. I can't tell you how many times I was sitting next to someone who was panicking over another passenger's failure to comply.
  • 1 Hide
    g00fysmiley , March 28, 2013 2:49 PM
    it annoys me when people keep talking about smart watches and say the apple iwatch... which DOES NOT EXIST YET ... sure they are probably testing models and sch but there are already severl smart watches on the market being used regularly. the pebble, sony smartwatch the moto activ... there's also plenty of cell phone smart watches that even have touchscreen s and full phoen functionality ... btu nope apple will invent it years after others have been on the market ... and i will getting notifications of responce to this message on tom's via... you guessed it my sony smartwatch
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