The quiet electronics revolution on planes

So I have been taking a number of flights recently (and if you look at my presentation schedule you can see why). What I have noticed is that there is widespread violation of the no using of electronics rule for take-off and landing. I have seen people with iPods, iPhones, Blackberries, etc., all using them during the restricted times. What is more, the plane appears to be no worse for wear while their fellow passengers, including me, are clearly unconcerned. Some, like Steve Levitt, have been bucking the rule for years but the extent of use I observed is quite widespread.

That said, it isn’t an open revolution. I tried to continuing using my Kindle (which let’s face it draws less power than an overheard light) but it is out in the open and after enough requests (and some mild protests) I had to put it away. On Qantas, Kindles don’t appear to be an issue. Anyhow there goes on potential advantage they might have had over and iPod.

And there were no open laptops or video watching going on. Nonetheless, it is clear that the American public doesn’t believe this ‘safety’ requirement. I wonder how long it will be before the revolt becomes more out in the open.

6 thoughts on “The quiet electronics revolution on planes”

  1. i often get bberry emails when i am many thousands of feet above sea level. my new bberry gets extraordinary reception.

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  2. There was an article in the Economist (I don’t remember the source of the paper), in which an analysis done several yeas ago estimated an average of four mobile phones would be active (left turned on) on any international 747 flight.
    The truth of the matter is that there are no reliable quantitative studies pertaining to the impact of mobile devices on aircraft electronics. The ban came about due to anecdotal ‘evidence’ based on various in-flight incidents reported by airlines and their crews. (Some of which I believe were actually due to pilots being unfamiliar with the advanced fly-by-wire control systems put into use in the 90s. It’s easier to blame spurious RF ‘signals’ rather than pilot training. There are likely t be other factors, of course) It raises the issue of negligence – or over-reaction – on the part of the relevant safety authorities, i.e. it is serious enough to ban the use of certain electronic devices at certain stages of the flight, but not apparently to perform a detailed technical study as to possible ‘root cause’ (and effect).
    Interestingly enough, there are micro GSM base stations available for on-board in-flight use. The major telco OEMs offer such products though you might get a counter-revolution if enough passengers started blabbing away on long-haul flights.

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  3. The issue with electronic devices during take-off and landing was more due, I thought, to preparedness in case of emergency. No laptops means fewer things that get in the way, for example.

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  4. Have you seen the mythbusters episode about this?
    They had more evidence that just about any other myth they choose to call ‘busted’.
    However, right at the end (obviously thinking of the potential backlash, or legal issues) they decided that
    ‘because the cannot be completely 100% sure that all frequencies of all phones at all times won’t interfere’ the cannot bust the myth.

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  5. A quick look at Wikipedia references several technical studies which suggest there is some risk to older aircraft systems, or to systems where the shielding has degraded or is faulty. And also refers to degradation of the mobile system capacity – something which would not be evident to passengers.

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