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Do you roll your eyes and reluctantly obey when a flight attendant asks you to “please power down” your electronics before takeoffs and landings? Or do you ignore the attendant’s seemingly ridiculous request by immediately pretending to fall asleep with your headphones still blaring?
The airline industry has a few given reasons for asking its passengers to power down electronics. However, as technologies continue to advance, future regulation changes are likely.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains that there are safety concerns relating to the use of cellphones and other electronics during takeoffs and landings.
The FAA writes that in “large quantities and emitted over a long time, [electrical emissions] may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment.”
Robert Carlton, a commercial pilot and father of Conor Carlton ’11, explains that nowadays an airplane’s system is almost entirely run by electronics. “Airplanes have become more sophisticated electronically … so there are more points of conflict between a passenger’s devices and the system in the aircraft.”
A December 2011 article by Nick Bilton in the New York Times (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/12/25/disruptions-tests-cast-doubt-on-fcc-rules-on-kindle-and-ipad-html/) noted that the last time any testing was done for the use of electronics on planes was in 2006, “long before iPads and most Smartphones and e-readers existed.”
Regardless of a lack of sufficient testing in recent years, it is extremely difficult to unilaterally prove whether an electronic might affect an aircraft’s electronic system. Carlton says that to determine absolute safety “[The FAA] would have to prove that something would never interfere with the airplane.”
In response to Bilton’s inquiries in 2011, Les Dorr, a spokesman for the FAA, said that testing had showed “insufficient information to support changing the policies.” According to Dorr, “There was no evidence saying these devices can’t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can.”
When asked why airlines ask passengers to power down electronics during takeoffs and landings specifically, Carlton explained that when an aircraft is closest to the ground, “that’s where the margin [of] safety is most critical.”
Technical reasons aside, the notion remains that electronics should be powered down especially during takeoffs and landings because if an evacuation or drill were to occur, people should not be distracted by 50 Shades of Gray on their Kindles or intense Fruit Ninja games on their iPods.
“Flight attendants want [electronics] off because they want you to hear what they have to say—in case there were an incident,” remarks Carlton.
Then again, Bilton conjectured that enabling about one hundred passengers to turn on their electronics at the same time after takeoff could cause a greater disruption than if the devices were left on during takeoff.
After speaking with electrical engineers, Bilton noted that, “when the electronic device starts, electric current passes through every part of the gadget, including GPS, Wi-Fi, cellular radio and microprocessor.”
Thus, the action of switching electronics off, then switching them on again might prove to be more disruptive than not doing anything at all.
“I think you’ll see some [policy] movement soon,” remarks Carlton after noting that as aircraft systems are advancing, so might its passenger regulations.
Carlton adds that many aircrafts are now “equipped with Wi-Fi capabilities that have been highly tested to make sure that they are compatible with the airplane.”
Carlton has heard of some foreign carriers that have already begun to relax their rules, and begun to permit and offer the use of wi-fi during flight.
Then again, passengers’ reluctance to power down begs a host of larger questions. “Are we at a point in this world where we just can’t spend 10 minutes alone, by ourselves with our own thoughts?” wonders Carlton. “Maybe it’s not so bad that everyone has to unplug every once in awhile.”