Tag Archives: electronics

The Writing Is On The Wall For Having To Turn Off All Electronic Devices

Everyone hates having to turn off their iPod, Kindle and anything else with an on/off switch while the plane is taking off or landing. And for somewhat over a year, ever since The New York Times and The Atlantic teamed up with Alec Baldwin to protest the nonsensical rule, pressure has been slowly but steadily building on the FAA to relax. The latest salvo came from both the FCC and Congress: the chairman of the former and a Missouri Senator from the latter both sent letters to the head of the FAA asking the agency to reconsider. The Senator pointed out that “the current rules are inconvenient to travelers, don’t make sense and lack a scientific basis” and threatened legislative action if the FAA doesn’t change its tune.


In March of 2012, the FAA responded to the pressure by agreeing to test Kindles and iPads and approve them for all phases of flight. This is a half-measure, because not even a year later, Google’s Nexus 7 is the hot new tablet, yet it’s nowhere on the FAA’s radar. What needs to change is the rule requiring every model of every brand of tablet to be tested on every kind of plane. In October of 2012, the FAA agreed to take another look at its rules and to possibly change them. There’s no timeline for this process, but a committee is being organized this month to maybe do something about it. And with another federal agency, a Senator and the population at large barking at their door, we are likely to soon keep our devices on during the entire flight. “Soon”, meaning 2014. Maybe. If you’re good.

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From The New York Times

FAA Is Reconsidering Rules On Electronic Devices

As pretty much everyone knows, the FAA has an archaic rule that anytime the plane is moving and is under 10,000′, anything with an on-off switch must be turned off. Oh, except for voice recorders and electric shavers… and pilots’ iPads. The truth is that the rule makes no sense, but no one knows why it’s in place to begin with and they’re afraid of what will happen if they change it and then a plane crashes; so the FAA employees figure annoying millions of passengers daily is preferable to them losing their jobs. In late 2011, both The New York Times and The Atlantic took up the noble cause of freeing us from the shackles of air travel Ludditism, but neither of them caused as big of a stir as Alec Baldwin’s not-so-silent protest on the matter. Regardless of which of them was the catalyst, something got the FAA’s attention, because it is now working on making some tablet devices kosher for all phases of flight.

The facts are these: in order for a device to be approved under 10,000′, the airline has to test it and submit the results to the FAA. This is a pretty expensive process, so the all-but-bankrupt airlines don’t do it (except for the pilots’ iPads, since having access to flight manuals electronically is a clear benefit). The FAA, probably realizing that in the age of Kindles and iPads, they’re about to become the TSA’s slightly-less-ugly cousin — or maybe out of fear of drawing Alec Baldwin’s anger — decided to take matters into their own hands and test the devices themselves.

After the monetary cost, the next problem to tackle is the FAA’s own ridiculous rules: classes of devices cannot be approved, but rather only specific models. So the iPad has to be approved, then the iPad2, the new iPad, the Kindle 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, the Nook 1 and 2, and any other devices which might be popular. They have to test each of these models of tablet on each of the models of plane on each of the airlines. Given 10 kinds of tablets, 10 kinds of planes and 10 airlines — numbers lower than reality — that means 1,000 separate approvals. Because of this, they’re not even going to try to approve smartphones, of which Samsung alone makes 53 different types of Android phones. Thank your lucky stars the Android tablets never took off, because then even iPads wouldn’t make the cut. But if all goes well, in the next year or two, we could be listening to Brahms while reading the digital version of The New Yorker as the plane takes off.

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From The New York Times, via Slashdot

There’s No Good Reason To Turn Off Electronics During Take-Off And Landing

The New York Times had a blog article a couple of days ago on the sheer pointlessness of the FAA regulation that anything with an on-off switch has to be turned off anytime the airplane is under 10,000 feet. The Atlantic responded with a strong “hear, hear!” Both articles had a lot of response from sheeple shocked at even the questioning of safety regulations, so they both posted responses.

If the rule has a rational purpose (an assumption which is certainly not on firm standing), that purpose has to do with safety. The most common assumption deals with electronic interference, but here’s why that can’t possibly be true:

  • It isn’t enforced. The flight attendants tell you to turn your electronics off, but unlike seat belts, seat backs and bags beings stowed, no one checks to make sure you actually do.
  • Assuming a couple of people on each flight ignore the rule, that means about 1% of travelers do so, which means that in 2010, 7 million people on 11 million flights ignored the rule and nothing happened. Ever.
  • The TSA is worried that a 3.5oz shampoo bottle will take down the plane, but aren’t the least worried about 200 cell phones.
  • The FAA has no actual proof the devices will cause interference — the best they have is a study saying they can’t know either way, — but according to a spokesman, they like to err on the side of caution.
  • Aviation radio frequencies are restricted, and not used by commercial devices.
  • Aviation equipment is shielded from interference, exactly for safety reasons.
  • All pilots have GPS receivers just like yours, in their cockpit.
  • Many pilots have iPads (airlines are moving to digital manuals), noise-cancelling headsets and even cell-phones on during the whole flight.
  • Passengers in private and chartered jets and on Air Force One are never told to shut off their electronic devices, and it has never caused a problem.
  • The only reports of interference are anecdotal (e.g., one pilot claims that while he can’t prove it, an AM radio caused his scopes to go haywire), and they only number under a hundred, despite there being millions and millions of flights.
  • The rule makes people turn off devices that don’t even send or receive wireless transmissions: digital cameras, DVD players, e-readers in airplane mode, etc.
  • Every electronic device has to be approved by the FCC and comply with their rule that the “device may not cause harmful interference” and “must accept any interference received including interference that may cause undesired operation.” We can suppose that consumer electronics and especially airplane components comply with that FCC regulation.


FCC Part 15 Class A / Class B Verification Label


Besides electronic interference, the other reasons you hear about are related to physical safety. Here they are, and their counterarguments, in debate dialog form:

  • The FAA wants you to pay attention to the flight attendants in case of emergency.
  • If this were true, why do they let you read books, play Sudoku, and sleep?
  • Because those people’s attention can be grabbed with a PA announcement; someone watching Transformers on an iPad isn’t at all aware of their surroundings.
  • Neither is a sound sleeper, but in either case, why would Kindles and digital cameras have to be turned off?
  • Because if they’re not turned off, they may cause interference.
  • Even if they did (see above), the rule is not enforced — a dozen people could just forget them on in their luggage.
  • Maybe the plane can tolerate a dozen, but not a hundred.
  • Then why can it tolerate a hundred at 10,001 feet, but not at 9,999? Also, the FAA approves things like voice recorders and electric shavers for use under 10,000 feet — why not a digital camera or an iPhone in airplane mode?
  • If something should happen and your iPad goes flying around the cockpit, it can cause serious injury.
  • So can a hardcover edition of War and Peace. Besides, they don’t make you put your iPad away — you can keep it off and in your hands.
  • Also, if you talk on the phone for 4 hours, the guy sitting next to you might smack you.
  • Airplanes used to come with phones built in to the seat! But regardless, no one wants cell phone use — they want to read their Kindle for the 20 minutes it takes to get to 10,000 feet.

All these possible reasons are speculation, because, aside from the obviously bogus interference argument, the FAA won’t say exactly why they have the rule. But clearly, there is absolutely no good reason for the blanket scope to turn off all electronic devices. And if there is an actually reasonable explanation for the rule, this kind of blanket enforcement hurts the FAA in the same way that exaggerating the dangers of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll hurts parents, preachers and teachers: by taking their credibility away.

The point at which kids realize that pot doesn’t actually turn you into a retard overnight, is the point at which they’ll question every other thing their parents told them. There’s always the 10% that would never dare test their parents, but the other 90% don’t actually turn their phone off — they just put it in airplane mode; and not because of FAA regulations, but because its battery would die mid-flight, searching for signal.

From The New York Times and The Atlantic, via Lifehacker