back to article IATA: this iPad could BRING DOWN A PLANE

For as long as the world has had portable electronic devices, the mass debate has continued: does our tech pose a threat to flight safety? With a greater number of services offering in-flight phone calls, the doubters appeared to have the upper hand. However, a new report claims our electronic gizmos could be hazardous after …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. NoneSuch Silver badge

    Cell blockers have been used for years

    in theaters and other places. Setting up a wide range frequency suppression system should be easy peasy as well as set off an alert to aircrew that some City Boy in seat 3A is trying to download his email at 35,000 feet.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Cell blockers

      So you say that if devices can upset aircraft because of their emissions, then we should fit devices into all aircraft to cause emissions?

      Is this because you deliberately want to upset the aircraft? (Where's the half-baked icon)

  2. Chris Miller

    Meanwhile, in the glass cockpit ...

    First Officer: What's it doing now?

    Newly Promoted Captain: It does that sometimes.

    Experienced Captain: It's doing it again.

  3. Valerion

    Clock spun backwards and GPS disrupted?

    I think it's more likely they were flying over the island from Lost.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Sorry, my bad!

      Sometimes my astrogater thinks it's funny to mess with human's avionics. No harm, no foul. Cheers.

      1. Graham Marsden

        @Sorry, my bad!

        Please switch off the Effector in your GCU, it's not funny!

        1. DRendar
          Thumb Up

          Holy Crap

          An IMB reference...

          I like.

  4. Dave Murray


    Typical of the modern world, the uninformed opinion of trolley dollies is more important than that of trained engineers.

  5. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    I will grow up one day!

    "mass debate"


    1. Goat Jam

      You think that's funny?

      Try listening to this song when you don't already know what it's called.

      I heard it for the first time the other day & wasn't paying much attention. When Frank sang "The old masterpainter" line my ears pricked up.


      Then I listened carefully and realised what he was actually saying but I could have sworn he sang something else at first.

      Or maybe that's just me.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what sort of clocks do they use

    if putting a laptop near one can make it run backwards?

    I realise weight is an issue on aeroplanes, but even with minimal shielding they shouldn't be that susceptible to interference, (presumably wi-fi is the issue, and not just general em)

    Even my sub £1 alarm clock has never missed a beat, despite being near laptops constantly. My phone doesn't even make it chirp if i put it next to it. Although less can be said of my smoke alarm which can't have a mobile within 3 feet of it without making all sorts of racket.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Probably NTP driven..

      .. and it ended up syncing to a Linux laptop with its timezones messed up :-).

      Joking apart - if that clock HAD been running NTP, synced with GPS, there is no way it would have run off to any noticable degree unless it was set up wrong. A properly configured NTP resource that had a chance to collect stats for a week from a GPS source is nigh impossible to mess up.

      Anyway, I digress. I'm not buying that clock story unless it's confirmed by someone qualified.

  7. Tim Greenwood

    Just turn it off anyway.

    Since you will probably struggle to get a connection through large parts of the flight due to being out of range, why not do everybody a favour and turn it off anyway ?

    Alternatively, if you must be at someones beck and call all the time then only book flights where you can use the airlines own phone. You can subsidise the flights for the rest of us by paying over the odds for the priviledge.

    1. ArmanX

      The problem isn't the phone...

      Until I can get a free connection, I'm not going to worry about surfing the 'net on a flight. I would, however, like to listen to music on my cheap no-name MP3 player, or read a book on my Kindle, or even use my GPS during the flight just for fun. I'd even like to watch movies on my laptop.

      But flight crews don't realize that the electronic interference of my Kindle is about that of an analog watch, or that the GPS is a listen-only device. If I were to point out that there is more electronic interference from their credit card reader than my MP3 player, I'd just get kicked off the plane.

      I can't wait for the day that electronics can be used on aircraft with impunity, but it's going to be a long time coming...

      1. Number6

        Spurious Emissions

        Even your GPS or Kindle is going to radiate something. That's why any electronic device with FCC or CE approval will have been tested to determine that it's below limits. The Kindle is probably really quiet except when you change page and it wakes up its power supplies for a few hundred milliseconds of activity. I assume the wireless side doesn't operate unless specifically enabled.

        What is not often appreciated is that the interference can be caused by two devices acting together. They both radiate on particular different frequencies and the two mix together somewhere and produce sum and difference frequencies. Even a rusty bolt can cause this.

        I think they're being over-cautious, but because it's impossible to test every combination of gadgets against aircraft electronics that's probably not too bad an idea. Certainly during take-off and landing, which is when they do try to remove any possible problem. Once above 10,000ft the crew have got a bit more time to sort out a problem and so the restrictions are relaxed. We've all heard GSM interference on audio, in an aircraft you're probably within 10ft of signal cables and so could cause the same sort of problem.

        1. Danny 14

          not really

          your kindle will probably be the worst out of the lot as it will have an inverter in there. Nasty things that cause EM spikes. The GPS probably the least as GPS are typically well shielded in order to accept the GPS signal. MP3 players are the middle as they probably have inverters too - your illumibrite watch will be the worst offender of them all.

          1. ArmanX


            But that's my point - of course all electronic devices emit RF energy. Even non-electronic devices emit EMF; nylon jackets or wool sweaters, for instance. But no one asks me to take off my sweater when I board a plane, just like they don't ask me to take the battery out of my (hypothetical) watch, or my (again hypothetical) clock radio in my carry-on. I could even use a battery-driven fluorescent reading light without getting in trouble. As Danny 14 mentioned, some electronics that few people think to check can be the worse offenders...

            Perhaps I wasn't clear, but I'm suggesting that if the watch and reading light is allowed, most other consumer electronics should be allowed, as well; on the other hand, if the danger is so great that a basic wide-band, high-power transistor radio transmitter circuit has the possibility of bringing down a plane, then there should be a complete ban on any and all electronics - watches, reading lights, cell phones, everything.

            Or, they could install some better-than-nothing EMF filters on their equipment.

      2. MikeSM



        I too would love to use any and all my electronic devices while in flight. But it is attitudes like yours that make the use of ANY electronic devices banned.

        Despite your assertion that your GPS receiver or MP3 player are "listen only devices", they do in fact emit RF energy. Any electronic device with a processor is capable of producing EMI. Your "cheap no-name MP3 player" is actually among those devices most likely to cause issues due to its poor or non-existent shielding. There are plenty of documented incidents of portable electronics causing disturbances in avionics.

  8. No, I will not fix your computer


    A few years ago, I was happily surfing away on a plane using WiFi on my laptop, connected to the planes access point, connected to the internet (Singapore Airlines as I recall).

    I don't recall slaming into a mountain.

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Well....

      I believe I would be right in saying that a very large majority of people who *do* slam into mountains also remember absolutely nothing about it.

  9. cloudgazer

    who needs box-cutters

    Soon planes will be brought down by suicide web-surfers.

  10. Jonathan White

    Oh the humanity

    75 flights? Over US airspace, randomly crossed as it is by a thousand flights every day? In 6 YEARS? And even then they've got no hard evidence at all, just what cabin crew thought was happening? They consider this sufficient evidence to ban their use? Jesus wept.

    1. Number6

      Air Safety

      Part of the reason why aviation has such a good record is because they're really keen on safety, at least when it doesn't cost too much money (given the number of incidents caused by lack of proper maintenance or failure to do modifications in a timely manner).

  11. nyelvmark

    ...a clock spun backwards...

    Ah, but was the plane over the Bermuda Triangle at the time? That would explain all sorts of weird stuff.

  12. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Please turn off your electronics

    Whereas officially approved installed aircraft entertainment systems have provably caused at least one crash (Swiss air 111) kill 250 people. Passengers own equipment might, according to something someone heard a mate of a pilots cousin say in a pub to someone on Facebook - cause problems

    1. Tom 260

      not interference

      The crash of the Swissair flight was decided to have been caused by the on-board entertainment system overheating and catching fire. Since it was connected to the cockpit (or main) electrical supply, and not the cabin electrical supply, turning off the cabin electrical supply when they first noticed the smoke had no effect.

  13. Ian K

    "In one instance [...] a clock spun backwards and GPS readings started going off."

    TBH that sounds more like a poltergeist problem than anything else.

  14. Studley

    Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo

    Kudos for the Simpsons reference. "TURN IT BACK ON! TURN IT BACK ON!"

  15. Ru

    "a clock spun backwards"

    Nah mate, yer flying through a spatio-temporal anomaly. Prolly aliens or the unquiet dead; yer average iDevice just bursts into flames rather than interferin with the regular flow of time.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    More to the point...

    why on earth does anyone NEED to use their phone on a plane? You aren't THAT important that the world can't live without contacting you for a few hours.

    Morons who feel the need to start checking their crackberry the second the plane hits the ground make me laugh, get a life you saddos.

  17. Tim Parker


    "do such reports cause enough scare to turn your phone off on a flight? If so, don't get on a plane with me."

    Frankly, if you're saying you disobey the directions of airline employees whilst on an aircraft - even if your patent omniscience lets _you_ know they are obviously wrong - they I hope you are removed from it, and banned until you can understand that what you do may effect others. I don't know whether the electronics effect the flight systems to such an extent they become dangerous in all these cases - although the findings from at least one test you mention seem to indicate they can in some circumstances - but neither do you.. and that's rather the point.

    A number of years in air-freight and the international courier business - plus a ICAO hazardous goods certification (lapsed) - have reinforced the (hopefully) rather obvious observation that not everything that everybody thinks are safe on aircraft actually are...perhaps a similar realization in the matter of EMI and flight systems, until proven otherwise, could help your hubris.

    If you honestly can't cope in life without your phone constantly operating, then you have my pity, but not my understanding.

  18. slith

    Not the traveller's responsibility.

    If the interference a portable device can down a plane, this could be used maliciously and the airlines and air-plane manufacturers should use the standard (effective) security measures. For example, blast-proof aircraft luggage containers, bullet-proof door to cockpit and, in this case, properly shielded internal aircraft wiring.

    Banning electronic equipment will be as effective as banning liquids, or forcing passengers to remove their shoes/belts.

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Hundreds of flights per day? More like tens of thousands.

  20. Captain Underpants

    Oh fer Christ's sake, it's very simple:


    a) there's a signifcant risk - in which case Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers can (at the behest of national aviation authorities, if need be) conduct in-lab tests using a sample set of devices to determine what, if any, interference is caused and how to deal with it, and the nature of the interference will determine the nature of the solution, or

    b) there's no significant risk, in which case shut the hell up and leave me alone when I'm listening to my mp3 player/using my EEE/whatever.

    In either case, relying on the opinions of a bunch of non-technically-trained in-flight staff who've already got a tough job placating a large herd of humans in an enclosed and cramped space is pretty much guaranteed to get you nowhere. What proportion of flight crew staff do you reckon could tell you what the operating frequency for 802.11b wireless signals is, much less what aircraft equipment is likely to experience problems due to the presence of said signals?

    I'm all for caution in the face of unknowns, but given how many laptop-bearing people we punt around the sky on a daily basis in giant metal cigars with wings, it's way past time that someone actually undertook some definitive research to answer the bloody question. It would greatly improve the likelihood of success if this someone were an actual scientist with a background in electronics.

    1. Gordon 10

      What makes you think it hasnt been done?

      I used to work with Aircraft RF engineering specialists they were absolutely catergorically certain that there was no risk.

      The ban was always about perceptions and paranoia, and as soon as a way to monetise them or there were ways to keep the cattle distracted came along, the ban was dropped as quickly as they could get slow moving avaiation authorities to do it.

      It should be noted that until recently the fractured and individual country based authorities in Europe made this extremely slow.

  21. Anonymous Coward


    One has to ask why on earth (or floating 40,000 feet above it) you need your phone on in the first place. If the plane you're in doesn't provide mobile network connectivity, surely you're going to be a little out of range of the nearest base station.

    Or am I missing the point?

    Personally, any time without being contactable on my phone is a godsend.

    1. Danny 14


      some of us have phones that can play music, or read books on, or watch films on. Even fap too with the girly pictures.

      1. Ben 42

        Re: but

        "Even fap too with the girly pictures."

        On a plane?! I knew Europe was less uptight about these things than the US, but I didn't realize it went that far. :-)

  22. jack_flash


    So some flight crews thought some interference might be personal electronics but they can't prove it? Super article.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Evidence is strong.

    There is now solid evidence that electronic equipment interferes with flight equipment

    Honeywell displays affected by Wifi signals,

    Wifi banned from flight deck

  24. Greg J Preece

    Well fuck me, that's convincing evidence!

    "IATA admitted it hasn't actually verified that any of these were caused by electronic devices, instead highlighting that crew members thought they were."

    Cabin crew are known for their expertise in electro-magnetic fields and the like.

  25. Velv

    Acceptable Failure Rate

    What do you consider the acceptable failure rate of flights?

    1. ArmanX

      Just the once.

      Or, wait, you didn't mean per flight, did you...

  26. Simbu

    Occam's Razor

    What's more likely...

    - Big, complicated pieces of machinery with lots electronic equipment can sometimes malfunction. The cause is "shit happens".

    - Despite huge amounts of testing, and 1000's of safe flights a year, most of which will have pasengers using personal electronic devices... there's still some "don't club albino kittens" types trying to justify a job with very sketchy statistics.

    I'm with El Reg on this one... Besides, i've got an iPhone, and Steve-o cares enough about my well-being to not have me die in an iCrash, right?

  27. Ian Yates


    I've always been massively skeptical of the claims about interference (and sorry to those that travel on the same flights as me, I always use my MP3 player during takeover/landing).

    If airplane instruments are so sensitive that a MP3 player, iPad, etc., can set them off, I'm seriously shocked. How can they possibly be fit-for-purpose?

    I remember when a Merkin friend was flying over with some special tech gear; he asked BA if it was alright for him to carry on his expensive, delicate gear (can't remember the details, some kind of wireless equipment that he was going to use to set up a proof-of-concept long-range wireless network with - pre-WiFi days). They replied that it was fine as long.

    He pushed it and asked if he could use some of it mid-flight, and gave them specs; they said that it would be no problem. (He did and said that he found no interesting signals up there)

    Alas, this was ~15 years ago, and I no longer have the email that he forwarded around. We were all pretty shocked, though.

    Final bugbear: Why don't airlines put the interactive entertainment system on straight away? Passengers would be far calmer watching a film during takeoff/landing.

    The system's powered up, so that's not the reason; it's normally showing the stupid "flight info" screen to some boring classical music.

    /Beer: need one

    1. Steve Evans

      Re: Skeptic

      "Why don't airlines put the interactive entertainment system on straight away? Passengers would be far calmer watching a film during takeoff/landing."

      I can answer that one for you... The most dangerous parts of a flight (apart from the in-flight meal) are the take off and landing. Therefore the cabin staff would much rather you were alert for their instructions about which side of the plane is not burning following the accident, than dangling there tangled up in your head phones still focused on Airport 77.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Good reason

        But as soon as they make an announcement, the entertainment system pauses.

        1. Steve Evans

          Re: Good reason

          I bow to your greater experience of aircraft accidents!

          I still think they don't want you tangled up with the headphones though.

  28. Neil Hoskins

    It does seem foolish... go to huge lengths and expense getting all electronic equipment on an aircraft certified as not emitting too much interference, and then allowing carry-ons made by just about any tin-pot manufacturer.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Worked on flight controls for Airbus

    To be honest, the ones I worked on weren't susceptable to anything that would pass an EMC test, including some very nasty RF emission equivalent to a mobile phone inches away from the unit. As it happens, it also doesn't object to induced voltages/currents from lightening running over the skin of the aircraft, or corona discharges from the edges of the wheel doors into the avionics bay.

    As far as clocks going backwards, surely they are refurring to the ¡Pad, and the well documented ¡Don't ¡Konw ¡The ¡Time feature?

  30. BristolBachelor Gold badge


    "In one instance, while two laptops were being used nearby, a clock spun backwards and GPS readings started going off"

    Also while someone was walking along the steet eating a hot-dog, a car crashed. Car crashes are caused by fast-food....

  31. BorkedAgain

    Risk assessment

    So slightly less likely than the successful hi-jacking of an aircraft with a pair of tweezers or nail scissors, then. Or being blown up with a carton of orange juice.

    Keep this strictly entre nous, but I rather suspect that this is just another helping of security theatre. If we don't all have to take our shoes off, carry our tiny toothpastes in clear plastic bags and switch off our e-book readers (with no wireless capability whatsoever) for take off and landing then the terrorists will have *won* and then where will we be? Hmm?

  32. Anonymous Coward

    I guess

    the airline which wants to use ipads as a replacement for their in-flight manuals is buggered then:

    Captain : Take Off check list please.

    First Officer: Sorry captain no can do.

    Captain : What do you mean?!

    First Officer: Can't use that on take off sir. In fact, would you mind turning the engines off as well? The steward reports they are interfering with one of the critical systems, Mr Coffee machine.

  33. adnim


    don't any of the multitude of devices in use in my home interfere with each other?

    Several P.C's 2 of which are always on 24x7. two laptops on and off at various times of the day, 3 mobile phones, one wireless router, one ethernet switch, a couple of external USB hard drives, one CRT monitor, a couple of LCD monitors, one LCD television, one freeview box, a portable media device, HiFi system, guitar amplifier, zoom guitar effects box, midi keyboard, wireless doorbell, several digital clocks none of which run backwards and one of which synchronises with a time signal from Rugby.

    Is EMF shielding too heavy for use in aircraft. Or is a scapegoat being sought for the diminishing quality of aircraft components designed to reduced cost?

    As a mild attempt at humour; Most things can bring down a plane if thrown hard enough.

    1. peter wegrzyn

      Most equipment is screened

      "don't any of the multitude of devices in use in my home interfere with each other?"

      However, electrical goods can go faulty and cause all sorts of interference, some times so bad that Ofcom will come and track you down.

      "Is EMF shielding too heavy for use in aircraft. Or is a scapegoat being sought for the diminishing quality of aircraft components designed to reduced cost?"

      They are not making toys.

      Boeing and Airbus do not spend $15billion developing an aircraft so that passengers can act silly buggers with their toys. The develop the most fuel efficient and reliable aircraft possible using the best components they can do. Obviously testing every piece of electronic kite to be safe to use, in all the uses it may have, in every position in the aircraft is a pointless and incredibly expensive thing to do.

      You can do as they say, or buy your own aircraft and do what you like, if cost is not an important issue to you.

    2. Steven Knox


      I'm guessing none of that equipment is over 10 years old (with the possible exception of the guitar amplifier, esp. if you're a tube purist).

      In contrast, commercial aircraft can remain in service for over 50 years, so we still have some planes out there that were built before I was. Even for aircraft replaced ever 20 years or so, new craft are still often built based on older designs.

      I'm barely new enough to handle interference from modern electronic devices, so those older planes/designs haven't a chance.

      (and BTW, your devices do interfere with each other -- your cell phones will induce signals in speakers, for example. You've probably just tuned it out.)

    3. techmind


      The devices mentioned may not interfere with each other, but I bet you can't listen to any FM radio (especially radio3 or 4 which tend to have lower modulation levels) without the audio being overlayed with all sorts of buzzes and whistles (unless you live right next to the transmitter). AM radio is almost certainly also shot. You'll struggle to hear any aircraft comms within your room if you had a suitable radio too.

      You might want to check whether the "Rugby" (now Anthorn) clock is actually synchronising - I recently investigated a clock which had stopped syncing and found the problem was that it was sited within a metre of an electrically noisy BT Homehub (wi-fi, not PLT) power brick.

  34. Daniel Evans

    I'd be worried if...

    If aeroplane equipment was so sensitive and/or badly shielded that a laptop wifi signal can upset it, how on earth does it survive all the Radar/ATC Radio/stray commercial radio (TV etc.)/higher incidence of cosmic rays at 30kft? Anywho, your bog standard airport is chock full of radios, mobile phones, laptops, etc. - and unless I am very mistaken, GPS and clocks still work for pilots when landed.

    1. Charles 9

      Two Words: Faraday Cage

      The metallic body of an aircraft, as well as possible additions made just under the metal skin, help to protect the plane from incidental interference coming from OUTSIDE. Much like a Faraday Cage. But think of that Faraday Cage like a castle. Sure it helps keep people out, but what if the trouble you're trying to stop is ALREADY INSIDE? Radio transmissions taking place INSIDE the aircraft are not subject to the Faraday Cage and can now wreak havoc on sensitive electronics and cause inductions on nearby electrical wirings...simply by being nearby (think a moving magnet running along a wire). Many newer aircraft take this into consideration with additional internal shielding, but passenger jets tend to be bought and build with working lives spanning decades. And the whole idea of internal shielding is pretty recent, meaning there are still a lot of aircraft out there not properly equipped to handle internal EMI. Plus FAA regulations concerning electronics are unbelieveably tight: precise to prevent some Murphy moment from downing a place and the fault being traced back to a lack of oversight on their part.

  35. nyelvmark

    But seriously,

    Why might a clock on an aeroplane "spin backwards"? Well, a modern clock that's installed in an aeroplane will presumably be designed to adjust itself to local time without manual intervention. This is presumably achieved by an interface with the plane's navigation avionics.

    If this clock's display is mechanical (either hands on a face or tumblers with digits on them) then the clock will "spin backwards" by one hour whenever the plane crosses a time-zone boundary travelling westwards.

    So, could this actually be an everyday phenomenon that the person who reported it was unfamiliar with?

    1. VeganVegan

      Universal time

      They use UTC (coordinated universal time), not any old local time.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Turning off your phone

    If you are flying in the US or on an American carrier and do not turn your phone off, you are in violation of an FAA regulation and liable for a $2000 fine.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Doesn't make it right though...

      see title

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Cell blockers have been used for years"

    Ha, that's great.

    Not sure if that was a deliberate troll or idiocy but proper office LOL anyway.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    About the evidence...

    It looks like Honeywell buggered up the design of the DU3 units as both stories above (Evidence is strong) refer to the same hardware...a big cock-up there.

    I guess a lot of planes have been in service for a number of years and just simply haven't been designed in mind with the recently accelerating boom in consumer electronics. I can't imagine anything new rolling out the hanger these days would fail any tests - and I guess that none of the airlines want to tell us which aircraft are too old to pass for fear they'll have to get rid of them prematurely...

    Hence, the fuzzy predicament we find ourselves in... :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The interferance happens on a new 737NG

      Older aircraft are probably less susceptible, being much more mechanical.

    2. mrtheduke
      Thumb Up


      "It looks like Honeywell buggered up the design of the DU3 units as both stories above (Evidence is strong) refer to the same hardware...a big cock-up there"

      Love the fact that this reads like Honeywell have manufactured a large faulty penis in the sky ;o)

  39. Anonymous Coward

    Hello !? I'M ON THE PLANE !

    "With hundreds of flights taking off every day, do such reports cause enough scare to turn your phone off on a flight? If so, don't get on a plane with me"

    If you really need your phone while flying, then don't get on a plane with me.

    Can we swap travel arrangements ?

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge


      "The muffled sound you hear is your correspondent now attempting to recover his equipment from his rectal cavity. We suggest sending him SMS instead, he is presently in an excellent position to enjoy the vibrations. Thank you."

      Interestingly, I have been on at least 2 flights where prior to take-off a phone was ringing - owned by a member of the crew..

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Yeah.... Right

    "IATA admitted it hasn't actually verified that any of these were caused by electronic devices, instead highlighting that crew members thought they were."... These would be the same people who repeat "Turn off your electronic devices" 200 times a day... So possibly not impartial, and certainly not a qualified RF or digital systems engineer.

    Given that I can place a ringing mobile phone on top of my consumer PC, and the PC doesn't even notice, I suspect it's all bollox.

    The same goes for not using phones in petrol/gas stations. Do you know what the largest cause of fire on petrol/gas station forecourts is? People pulling off the road to see what's wrong with their car when it's already on fire!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  41. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    A major air defence saving

    Our government were just about to pay $8Bn on some stealth fighters to defend us from foreign air attacks. Now we just need a few 1000 Nokia 1100s across the North Sea and we are safe.

    Good job we found out in time.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    Load of tosh

    I never turn off my cell on a plane, just set it to airplane mode. For short (less than 1 hour) flights I don't even do that.

  43. jezzap

    Re: skeptic

    @Ian Yates: do you realise that the ban on MP3 players during take off and landing has more to do with getting your undivided attention if something does go wrong than it being dangerous to the flight systems?

  44. Steven Knox

    A Title

    At least this part appears to be proper science:

    'Dave Carson, a Boeing advisor, reckons portable devices radiate signals that can disrupt electronic sensors hidden in a plane's passenger area, ABC News reports.

    Engineers demonstrated how hidden signals from electronic devices were far above those which Boeing considers acceptable for aircraft use. The worst offender for those signals was an iPad, although Blackberrys and iPhones also sit well over the limit, it's claimed.

    Newer planes with correct sheathing shouldn't be affected, but older models could remain a problem. In those cases, according to Carson, mobile phones are a genuine safety hazard.'

    So unless you have a certificate in determining the age of the plane you're in by glancing quickly at the cabin while stowing your carry-on, just turn the damned toy off unless they say you can use it.

    1. Ken 16 Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      This ties in with another anecdote I heard

      From my flight instructor, who kept his phone on in case of emergencies from an ill partner at home. He said the phones didn't interfere with flight equipment but had been known to disrupt communications with baggage handlers on the ground. Since the baggage handlers are probably directly under the cabin, it could be pallet handling etc. sensors affected.

      To the other poster talking about only 30 year old planes being affected, you'd be surprised how old some of the flying machines in service are!

  45. Anonymous Coward

    Everyone asking why stuff at home doesn't interfere...

    Ever placed a GSM phone near a sound system?

    du-di-du.... du-di-du... du-di-du

    That wasn't expected when the sound system was designed. It also wasn't planned when GSM was designed. It is unplanned, unexpected interference.

    When the potential result of something unplanned is expensive in lives, then you try not to take risks.

    With the passengers being inside the plane, with the electronics, as opposed to being outside the plane's metal skin, I won't be at all surprised if cases of interference occur. When every combination of plane has been tested with every combination of kit in every seat in the plane, then we'll know what the risks really are.

    Does anyone know a good supplier of STP? I want to reduce the ethernet switching hash in my flat a little to try and make 30M usable.

    Mine's the one with a set of plans for a home-brew spectrum analyzer in the pocket.

  46. Mick Stranahan

    I turn my kit off when asked

    Not because I think the plane will fall out of the sky, but because I've been asked to by the flight attendant and it's the polite thing to do. Nothing worse than sitting by some know-all tw*t who insists on keeping his phone on and has to be asked three times to turn the thing off.

    Last time I was next an idiot like I quietly told him to turn it off or I would turn it into a suppository. Bingo, phone off.

  47. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    The article lacks serious data

    There is a huge amount of variance between a phone or laptop in flight mode (i.e. not emitting anything deliberate like WiFi, Bluetooth and good ol' GSM) and one that has been left to radiate - especially cell phones crank up transmission when they are losing signal.

    A transmission enabled phone I can see emit enough noise to make a mess, but I would be worried if kit switched to flight mode can do this - otherwise I can already tell what the next idiot desiring a meeting with 70 virgins/raisins is going to do..

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm surprised by the comments

    For a supposedly educated and technically literate body of readers, the ignorance of basic RF, covered in any graduate electronics course, is breathtaking.

    1. commonsense
      Thumb Down

      Since when...

      ...did an IT news website mandate that you have a particular qualification before posting?

  49. Richard 51

    How crap are these planes anyway ?

    I really don't have a problem with turning on flight mode through the flight, after all the likelihood of getting a connection at 35K ft is miniscule. But why with 15 - 20 mins before landing do they insist on swtiching off a smartphone that i am reading a book on?

    If Planes are that susceptible to interference they ought to fall out of the sky more often. What sort of scientific process is relying on a few unsubstantiated reports from pilots. They maybe able to fly but when was it requirement for a pilot to also be an RF Engineer.

    1. Charles 9

      They want you to pay attention.

      Takeoffs and landings are the two most vulnerable points of any flight (statistically, most serious aircraft incidents--particularly CFITs or Controlled Flights Into Terrain--occur during these points). Passengers are required by national and international laws and regulations to obey the instructions of pilots during these circumstances because, should crap hit the fan and something serious but still not catastrophic happen, they need people to move and act quickly. Shutting off the electronics is a rather gentle way of the pilots saying, "Shut up and pay attention!"

      1. peter 45

        that's why!

        I always wondered why they always hand out the newspapers and in-flight magazine after takeoff and not whilst you were getting on the aircraft.

        Makes perfect sense now.

        /sarcasm off/

  50. Anonymous Coward

    Did anybody bother to read past this bit?

    "IATA admitted it hasn't actually verified that any of these were caused by electronic devices, instead highlighting that crew members thought they were."

    Haven't they got anything better to do than promulgate non-stories?

    More important... Do I get points for using the word "promulgate?"

  51. JB

    First class traveller?

    Was Bart Simpson bumped up to First Class? That's an unholy amount of legroom there!

  52. Trollslayer

    I think people are missign the point

    As articles have said, recent aircraft are designed so antennae and vulnerable wire/sensors are placed elsewhere.

    It it the THIRTY YEAR OLD airicraft that are susceptible.

  53. Clive Harris

    My own experience...

    ...taking my daughter for a ride in a light aircraft and waiting for take-off clearance at a busy airport.

    Me: "Control Tower. Piper Cherokee Papa Delta Echo is ready for take-off"

    Tower: "Papa Delta Echo you are BEEPBEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZ CRACKLE WHIRR"

    Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Say again"

    Tower (distinctly annoyed): "Papa Delta BEEPBEEP BUZZBUZZBUZZ, please expedite."

    At that point, I glanced at my daughter in the passenger seat, to see her having a vital "heart-to-heart" conversation with her boyfriend on her mobile. I shouted to her to stow the darn thing.

    Me: "Control tower, Papa Delta Echo. Sorry, getting interference. Say again".

    Tower (extremely annoyed): "Papa Delta Echo BEEP BUZZZZZZZZ ... for immediate, repeat immediate take-off."

    Me: "OK I think that's a clearance". Takes off.

  54. John Tserkezis

    This is what happens when you promote to incompetence.

    "which pilots and/or crew believed to result from portable electronic devices."

    So now, the pilots and/or crew are certified electronics engineers who make that call.

    Glad to see we're in good hands.

  55. Sheherazade


    Fact: on every flight there are many passengers that just do not turn their phones off, because they ignore or do not understand the instructions, or because they are just too lazy. Airplane manufacturers and flight operators must be insane not to take this into account. How on Earth do they accept to let flight security on travelers? As if I told my users to be good (and save company expenses) instead of having proper security in place. So my bet is that until proven harmful, turning off electronic devices is just an extraordinary measure of precaution. Just like switching the lights off during the take off and landing.

    1. Clive Harris

      "Swiss Cheese" model

      Aircraft safety is managed through a "Swiss Cheese" model. You accept that every layer of safety, however carefully implemented, will have holes in it, like a slice of Swiss cheese. You can't catch them all, so you add layer after layer, making the cheese thicker, to minimise the chance of any of the holes going right through.

      There are procedures in place to minimise the use of mobile phones (one layer), systems to (hopefully) shield the aircraft systems from the mobile phones (another layer), backup procedures in case an aircraft system fails (another layer) and so on. Removing one layer will not necessarily cause a disaster - it just eats into the safety margin. However, if one of the other layers is already compromised (a tired technician forgot to secure some shielding, or a sleepy pilot didn't respond to an alarm), then you've got the makings of an accident.

  56. Jedit Silver badge

    International terrorism?

    There's an app for that!

  57. Steve Evans

    RF interference

    I find it hard to believe RF interference could down a plane given the amount of RF that you find round airports. I remember owning a cheap walkman which would buzz every few seconds whenever I was within a few miles of Heathrow. It was only when I got near the airport that I noticed the buzz was synchronised with the rotating radar pointing in my direction... I think it's safe to assume that planes are quite well screened or the airports would be surrounded by wreckage!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not to mention natural interference

      Like: Lightning, Radiation, or static (which builds up, don't you know).

      Lightning and static can have interesting effects on electronics, funnily enough. Slightly more severe than some weak RF.

  58. mrtheduke

    Of course it did

    It clearly wasn't an Apple Brand plane bought from the Apple Aviation store. You didn't think you had a choice of plane did you?

  59. Chris Rowland

    I hope I never fly with you lot

    It's not the deliberate RF emissions that are the problem, it's the noise from all the digital electronics.

    A friend of mine (retired from a senior position in a company making RF shielding) tells the story of a 747 in the cruise, on autopilot, that was gently rocking from side to side. After some investigating they found somebody in the first class cabin, just behind the flight deck, who was using a CD player. They got him to turn it off - aeroplane flew straight - on - plane wobbled. Better keep that off.

    There's no real control over the emission levels of consumer devices, and when they are in the plane they are inside the planes Faraday cage so the level of attenuation is much less than for things outside. Most things outside are further away as well.

    Maybe most devices are OK, but which ones? How does the airline tell? Even if there was a list of acceptable devices can you imagine the mayhem if the cabin staff were trying to explain that some devices were OK but others were not.

    And to those who think they know better than the airlines, how many of your friends are you prepared to sacrifice to determine exactly what the risk is?

    1. peter 45


      'a senior position in a company making RF shielding'.

      No possibility of a conflict of interest there then

    2. BorkedAgain

      Define friends

      I mean, most of my mates are cool and all, but I do have a few ex-neighbours taking up unwelcome space in the old christmas-card list...

      Loved the story though. Nice that the flight crew had a good, scientific approach to testing. not only checking that the wobble stopped but that it started again as well... So neat...

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like