Pilots Using Wireless Laptops In The Cockpit

from the wait-just-a-second... dept

So, while airlines still have all sorts of crazy rules about what electronics you can use when, and wireless devices seem strictly forbidden for passengers, they’re apparently a-ok for pilots. Britannia Airways is replacing their pilot manuals with laptops loaded with the documents. The laptops will have wireless connections so that they’re constantly updating to the latest version every time they return to the airport. So, my question is whether or not the pilots are allowed to view these manuals in their laptops during the ascent and descent when all the passengers are told we need to turn off our laptops for “safety reasons”? The blurb says that the laptops have been approved for use in the cockpit and only showed minimal interference. If they don’t interfere in the cockpit itself, then why are we supposed to believe they’re causing interference off in the cabin?

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Comments on “Pilots Using Wireless Laptops In The Cockpit”

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slim says:

Why you have to turn your laptop off.

I for one like the routine. Stowing your laptop on takeoff and landing is just a good idea. The fewer 6 pound objects smashing about the cabin during a bumpy landing, the better.

Of course, the vast majority of the public wouldn’t do it unless they were told there could be a safety hazard (says more about the public than the airlines, I’d posit).

It’s kind of like NASA telling people not to touch the space shuttle debris because it might be toxic. Probably not true in most cases, however, the warning has the desired effect.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

For rules in the air, Look to the C

For reasons why most wireless devices are forbidden for use in airplanes, look ye not to the FAA, but to the FCC.

The FAA does not, in fact, prohibit use of wireless phones, pagers, etc. in airplanes, but the Federal Communication Commision does. The reason is that the terrerstrial cellular networks were designed for use while sitting on terra firma. It was designed as a network of cells laid out on the ground, with no provision for 3D cellular layout. Airborne use may confuse and disrupt the networks. Here’s how:

While on the ground, your phone is designed to agree on a frequency with the nearest tower. Let’s say you got 1905MHz allocated for your call. In this case, 8 miles away, another tower and another customer may also be using 1905MHz to carry their conversation, except the land-based obstacles, and the distances reduce the interference of these two calls on the same channel. When you approach the other caller, you are ‘handed-off’ to the next tower, which will move you to another frequency seamlessly without interrupting your call (too much).

Now, let’s say you are in an airplane. Your phone is relatively far from the tower, so it cranks up signal strength to reach a tower (phones do this automatically). Unfortunately, you are essentially equidistant from multiple towers all using 1905MHz, and there are no obstacles between either. The system cannot decide which tower is best for you, and hand-off gets complicated. You present interference to other callers, and use more than your share of bandwidth (the same bandwidth, but over a larger area). For this reason, airborne use is probably prohibited under your ‘terms of use’ contract with your carrier.

This isn’t to say the whole cellular system would come crashing down if a phone call were made. It just says it may cause problems. The case of the 9/11 hijacked planes shows some of the issues: yes calls were made, but the calls were low quality, often cut-off, and missed tower-to-tower handoffs were probably the cause of cut-offs.

I do not believe that wireless use can ‘bring down’ the flight. Crikey, these planes fly through -and are often hit by- lightning. If my little phone, which I hold 1 inch from my brain, can produce enough interference to crash a plane, then I want no part of either the phone nor the plane.

The airlines are following a ‘better safe than sorry’ strategy, which is appropriate for their business. Passengers ARE required by law to observe crew instructions. That’s the only law prohibiting cellular use.

Of course, this neglects the far more important reason for not allowing wireless communication from planes — The fact that a flight with a bunch of passengers yapping away on their phones is my personal definition of hell.

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