Airlines split on whether iPhones pose in-flight danger

By , May 15, 2013

delta airlines installing charging stations

If you thought the question over in-flight electronics was settled, think again. Although the Federal Aviation Administration is expected to announce in July whether to relax current rules governing in-flight use of iPhones, iPads and other devices, questions remain about their safety.

Wednesday, Bloomberg recounted testimony from pilots and others calling into question whether some devices – particularly those using cellular connections – may interfere with newer GPS-based navigation. In one instance, pilots believe an iPhone caused their airliner to fly miles off course…

“The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved,” an unidentified regional airline co-pilot informed NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System concerning the 2011 incident, Bloomberg reports.

In a December survey by the consumer electronics trade group CEA, 30 percent of passengers said they left their devices on during a flight by accident.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agrees with the group that wireless technology is changing and rules should be changed. However, two U.S. airlines are split on whether to encourage greater use of in-flight electronics. United Continental believes changes could push enforcement of any new rules onto already busy flight attendants.

Although Delta Air Lines supports updating the regulations on inflight electronics, the company “reported 27 suspected incidents of passenger electronics causing aircraft malfunctions from 2010 to 2012,” according to Bloomberg. Devices which use cellular connections were singled-out by government investigators as posing the most risk to flight safety.

Unlike Wi-Fi connections, which are low-powered, cellular connections use more powerful signals to seek out long-distance ground stations. Airlines such as Delta and Alaska Air allow pilots to use tablets in the cabin, but limit the iPads to Wi-Fi, the report notes.

Current FAA rules ban most electronics use below 10,000 feet. Above that point, devices must be used in so-called airplane mode, which cuts radio signal transmission.

Lab tests by NASA, Boeing and the UK’s FAA equivalent found some devices emit radio signals able to interfere with in-flight avionics. One Samsung device in 2004 “was powerful enough to blot out global-positioning satellites,” Bloomberg reports.

There is growing concern about electronic devices impacting airline GPS equipment. Use of the satellite-navigation technology is growing as passenger airlines fly closer together to save fuel costs.

In a indication of how we may see loosing of in-flight Wi-Fi versus cellular, the FCC has approved a number of air-to-ground Wi-Fi providers, most recently Qualcomm.

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  • Gorgonphone

    lol lies/…. they are trying to see how they can make money buy charging a fee to use iphone during flight

    • Joe B

      haha

  • http://www.facebook.com/basem.aladwan Basem Al Adwan

    I never turn off my iPhone or iPad during flights !

  • http://www.facebook.com/pedro.gonsalez.501 Pedro Gonsalez

    For the nonbelievers: the next time you fly an airplane, have the pilot announce that all passengers should turn on their devices to test whether or not there is interference below 10000 ft. Easier said when you’re on the ground at the safety of your desk [in your parents basement], right?

    • Kaptivator

      I dont fly commercially, however I do fly in and out of class b airspace with all commercial airliners and corporate airliners as well (citations, g4’s, king airs and Learjet’s). I have an aviation headset, that commercial cargo pilots use, that I can plug up my cell phone and talk through or listen to my iPod (that is within my iphone) with. Just google cell phone compatible aviation headsets. I highly doubt that Telex, Bose and Light speed will knowingly walk into a class action lawsuit because of cellular interference disrupting any aviation or navigation suit in any plane. My flight instructor, who is a commercial airline pilot, never turns off his phone during our training sessions. I even use my phone while im completing my run up, taxing through a 4 runway class b airport all while getting clearance through ATC. My headset has a mute feature so that when I click in to respond to ATC, the person on the other end doesn’t hear the radio chatter. I have never had issues with navigation, communication or mechanics while talking on the phone. ATC nor any pilots piloting other planes in the near vacinity have complained or radioed to ATC to return to their gate or hangar stating that they are experiencing issues with their communication or navigation suits. I hardly ever fly over 10k feet due to me requesting flight following with ATC due to the fact that they keep a buffer from 12k to 19k for Jets and commercial airlines waiting for clearance into class A airspace (19k and above). I think that I have said this in a previous post, but ill say it again…your cellular services will be non existant once the plane climbs over 3k-5k feet. Unless the plane is equipped with something called Airfone. Yes the FAR hand book states that we are to turn off all electronic devices, however when in your own plane or rental plane…one tends to do what they want. I never turn off my phone on any flight..Also, tell me this..Name one airline crash that was a result to cellular phone interference…..You cant. Do you think that over the cours of a typical day of thousands of commercial flights which results in millions of passengers..every single one turns off their phone? Take a discovery flight…It will be the best 99bucks you have spent in a long time. And believe it or not, you are in more danger driving to the safety of your desk or walking down your parents basement stairs than flying a plane.

      • http://www.facebook.com/pedro.gonsalez.501 Pedro Gonsalez

        Thank you Kaptivator for the clarification.

        However, as a good citizen I do believe in observing the rules that are established. If there is (or was) reason for concern then we should do our best to minimize those dangers for our fellow passengers. Some fools pride themselves on being rebellious… the original message was intended for these people.

      • Kaptivator

        No hard feelings, just sharing my personal experiences. I know a lot of pilots that fly commercially and for recreation. Its just fluff about turning off gadgets. Now…I can understand the concern if everyone on the plane is on their cell phone. But honestly, I think that its more about keep down distraction, keep order and minimizing possible terrorist activity in congested airspace. I fly a dual piston Baron so once I reach a certain speed, the plane practically lifts off the ground itself. However in your larger craft, take-offs are just as dangerous as landings because they are much more “hands on”. The flying part…..Thats easy.

  • @dongiuj

    Well, when I flew to England on Lufthansa, for the first time with an iPhone, it was the worst flight I ever had. Two people colapsed on the way. One person threw-up all over the back of my chair and along my window! Also my flight was delayed…