Time To Challenge Airline Paranoia On Wireless

from the second-that dept

We've discussed this issue on Techdirt a few times in the past, but here's Guy Kewney taking a stand on something I believe in as well: it's time that the airlines (or regulatory officials) explain to us what exactly is the problem with using wireless devices on a plane. Right now, the best we can get is that there "could be" a problem - but no one seems to have answers to what those problems might be. At the same time, there has yet to be one recorded incident of problems with mobile phones or WiFi devices being used on airplanes. Kewney points out that on almost every flight he's been on lately, at least one mobile phone has started ringing in flight (meaning someone left it on - whether on purpose or not). I was on a flight recently where someone in the seat behind me made three or four phone calls during the flight. I have a friend who routinely leaves his Blackberry device on while on airplanes, so he can check his email. The article says that some pilots even keep their phones on in the cockpit while they're in the air. The other reason (not mentioned in the article) that is often mentioned for banning in-flight phone use is that it messes with carriers' towers - but even that doesn't seem to have much evidence behind it. The only reasonable argument I've heard for banning phones on planes is so that we're not trapped next to someone yakking away for hours on a cross-country flight.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2003 @ 7:17pm

    a couple of data points...

    In my experience (both as a pilot and as a passenger), the FAA regulations serve 1) to insure you have a safe flight and 2) to provide the cabin staff with some sense of enpowerment.

    I have personally experienced both situations. I'll review the last circumstance first: While I was a passenger on a JAL flight, I whipped out my GPS (with suction cup remote antenna) and hooked it up to my laptop and used Fugawi to determine our *exact* location on the inflight map. Shortly after, I was asked to stop using my laptop and GPS reciever as it was "causing problems with the cockpit instruments". I'm positive that this request was a canard and that the cabin staff were just weirded out by all my gadgetry.

    Second situation, as a student pilot pursuing an IFR rating in actual IFR conditions with an instructor pilot who's GSM phone rang on final approach at or close to decision height. Nothing quite as annoying as having to break off your apparoach because you lost before breaking out into visual conditions.

    Keep in mind a few things about the environment you're in when you travel by airplane. First, between the communications equipment, navigation equipment, collision avoidance equipment (and I count both TCAS and radar altimiter in this category) and varous asundry frequencies and side-bands produced by all the electronics, you must face the fact signal reciever/emitter rich environment. And, yes, some of those emitter/recievers can be deceptively simple (ADF approach uses AM radio technology and can be disrupted by something as simple as an electric shaver). Also, you're basically in a huge metal tube that's sealed at one end (rear pressure hull) with all the eletroics at the only "open" end. Can you say "cantenna" or "shotgun yagi"? Good... I knew you could. Now add in the various transmitters that can be found on the persons/luggage of 150 people affluent enough to use air travel. Throw in a good measure of harmonics and natural phenominum and you get a really good RF gulash.... you know, it's amazing that anything RF works in the cockpit at all.

    As far as 2.4ghz goes... I'm skeptical; after all most aircraft have microwave ovens these days. Still, landings and take-offs are sacred points in time that I'm just happy to be a carbon based life form without any RF requirments.

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