Mobile Phones Might Not Interfere With Planes, But They Sure Can Interfere With Pilots

from the okay,-perhaps-pilots-should-be-barred-from-texting dept

You know how we're not supposed to have our mobile phones on in the air? Right. There may not be very good reasons for that any more from a technology point of view (there used to be concerns about the impact on cell towers, but that can be solved today with picocells on the planes themselves). But, that still doesn't mean that pilots should be texting while they fly. Is it better or worse than texting while driving? In an age where autopilots do most of the work on landing, perhaps it wouldn't seem like a huge deal, but a Jetstar pilot landing a 220-seat Airbus A320 in Singapore had to abort the landing after realizing he forgot to lower the landing gear, because he was too busy responding to text messages. For whatever reason, the pilots shut off the autopilot, but then got distracted with text messages.
Somewhere between 2500 feet and 2000 feet, the captain's mobile phone started beeping with incoming text messages, and the captain twice did not respond to the co-pilot's requests.

The co-pilot looked over and saw the captain "preoccupied with his mobile phone", investigators said. The captain told investigators he was trying to unlock the phone to turn it off, after having forgotten to do so before take-off.

At 1000 feet, the co-pilot scanned the instruments and felt "something was not quite right" but could not spot what it was.
There followed a series of errors, with the pilot and the co-pilot not communicating with each other -- the pilot trying to drop the wheels as the co-pilot prepared to abort the landing -- and then both pilots becoming confused about their actual altitude. Oh, and then there was the fact that the flaps were set incorrectly.

I'm not necessarily one to bemoan the way people get obsessed with text messaging these days, but I generally think that if you're flying a commercial airplane, and taking it in for landing... it shouldn't be that hard to know that it's a good idea to not worry about your phone for five minutes.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    San Carlos Bob, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 5:49pm

    Cockpit

    In the US, the FAA has imposed a rule mandating a "10,000 feet sterile cockpit," meaning nothing except flying is to go on when the plane is below 10,000 feet. It is designed to avoid exactly the type of situation you describe.

    Here is an explanation of the sterile cockpit rule:


    http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/publications/directline/dl4_sterile.htm

     

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    fb39ca4, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 6:18pm

    Then why doesn't the FAA admit what the real reason is rather than spew this interference BS?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 6:29pm

    "At 1000 feet, the co-pilot scanned the instruments and felt "something was not quite right" but could not spot what it was."

    There you go, actual in the sky reports of things not looking right - turn off that phone!

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Apr 20th, 2012 @ 7:13pm

    What would be the height of irony...

    Is if the text he'd gotten was from someone, either another pilot, someone on the ground looking up or whatever, telling him that he forgot to lower the landing gear.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 7:46pm

      Re: What would be the height of irony...

      Not likely.

      There's only a little more than half minute from "able to see the plane from the ground" to the actual landing. Unless your plane were on a special flight, how long would take someone on the ground to notice the landing gear is not down, and then recognize the flight number, and find out the phone number of a pilot up there (the longest part - identify how's there and find out the phone number), and able to text the message out?

      It should have be faster if someone on the ground text to control tower about a plane about to land not showing the landing gear. Even tweeting it with the airport name should somehow get a chance to alert the control tower, me think.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 7:29pm

    So the pilots phone was on during the entire flight(or at the very least below the 10,000 foot mark). Since we know that cell towers are designed to fire parallel to the ground, and not perpendicularity to it, the phone had to be already be on well before it got the signal. So making people turn off their phones isn't really required, but who want to explain to people why their cellphones do not work above approximately 2500 feet(actual distance has to do with terrain, tower placement, tower design etc)?

    Also some devices do cause audio interference in speakers. Usually caused by poor line/mic level cabling, or not properly shielded/grounded equipment. This of course points to bad design of the equipment and not the interfering device fault. See part 15 of the FCC rules. So they could use better equipment, but it is easier to blanket ban.

    It is pretty neat to do if you have some cheap desktop speakers (~$10-$15), leave your phone near them and get phone calls. You will learn what the noise is that the speakers make before the cell phone will register anything incoming. It has to do with how well the speakers are built, and what frequency your phone communicates at. Mine will do it when wifi calling and sometimes around the 950 band.

     

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      Zos (profile), Apr 20th, 2012 @ 7:44pm

      Re:

      doesnt seem to happen anymore. not since i got a smart phone.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 20th, 2012 @ 8:13pm

        Re: Re:

        Yeah but for those of use prefer talking time over web, it happens quite frequently. Since the smart phone market is about 30%(http://www.fiercewireless.com/ctialive/story/ctia-us-smartphone-users-now-total-958-million/2011 -10-11) you have a very good change of it happening on a plane.

         

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          Dionaea (profile), Apr 21st, 2012 @ 2:03pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          It happens with our over the air digital tv box thingy, took me some time to finally figure out what caused that noise. The phone doesn't have to be that close either, I'm pretty sure I got the same kind of interference without a working phone in the room.

           

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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Apr 21st, 2012 @ 5:47am

    He hadn't put the gear down? Now that would be a bumpy landing.

    This is just one more reason not to fly if at all possible. I would certainly hope that this pilot is no longer allowed to fly in any role other than passenger. You really have to wonder how often this sort of thing actually does take place in the cockpit. I will not make or answer cell calls while driving my car, and not just because it is against the law in many states. It is a distraction from the task at hand, and I see the results of that every single day on the roads. I wish I had an RPG launcher on the hood of my car at those moments.

     

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      Dionaea (profile), Apr 21st, 2012 @ 2:06pm

      Re: He hadn't put the gear down? Now that would be a bumpy landing.

      I agree completely. And judging by what happened to that cruise ship recently it's wisest to just keep your feet on terra firma.

      What I find truly mindboggling is that he couldn't just ignore the darn phone until he'd landed...

       

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    Josef Anvil (profile), Apr 22nd, 2012 @ 2:06am

    I dare ya

    I've seen A Lot of funny comments on TechDirt, but I seriously dare anyone to come up with a comment that is funnier than the article itself.

     

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    Theory, May 2nd, 2012 @ 6:00pm

    Something's not right...

    Isn't the co-pilot supposed to be there to prevent exactly this sort of thing? I would think that there would be several warning systems designed specifically to alert the pilot and co-pilot that they are about to land without the wheels down.

    Even if that isn't true, wouldn't the co-pilot be able to realize that the wheels weren't down after scanning the instruments or doing his pre-landing check (or do they only have pre-flight)?

    And the thing with the flaps? Sounds to me like they had more problems than just a texting pilot. Remind me never to fly to singapore

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 23rd, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Do not believe everything that you read. Well before 1000 feet the aircraft would have let the aircrew know that it was not properly configured for landing! The copilot would not have "felt something was not right" after "scanning the instruments". The aircraft would have plainly TOLD them.

     

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    Hollis Sisto, Aug 8th, 2013 @ 1:33pm

    Are You Kidding Me?

    unreal, I guess the pilot forgot the FAA's rule about no cell phone use, I guess he had too many important texts to read and respond to.

     

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