back to article FCC urges rethink of aircraft personal-electronics blackout

The head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has written to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) asking for a rethink of the current ban on using electronic items in flight. Currently all electronic devices have to be switched off on US aircraft operating below 10,000 feet, and can only used in flight-safe mode …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tablets of death

    If there was truly any sort of problem it would be hugely obvious by now when you consider that many if not all passengers simply mute their phones and don't put them in flight mode at all. They also don't disable wifi or other wireless features.

    It makes sense for the flight crew to tell passengers to put items away for take off and landing as people need to be paying attention in the event that there is a problem but that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues.

    1. Tom 35

      Re: Tablets of death

      I expect a lot of them don't even know how to turn on flight mode (or even that they have one).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Tablets of death

        "I expect a lot of them don't even know how to turn on flight mode (or even that they have one)."

        It doesn't matter how idiot proof you make a device or how fisher price you make the OS, iPad owners still need help to break the rules.

    2. Arctic fox

      Re: " that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues."

      As far as the motivations of the FAA are concerned you are in all likelihood right. However, I am obliged to (partially) take issue with another point in the article inasmuch than I do not see that the issue of possible interference from electronic devices can be regarded as solely the result of poor shielding on those pieces of kit. If the onboard control systems are so poorly shielded that there is in reality a quantifiable risk that I could bring down a Boeing 747 with my Desire Z then I have to say that the manufacturers of the aircraft concerned and their electronics suppliers also have a responsibility. Indeed if it that shielding is of such mediocre quality that we are potentially at risk I think we should be very worried already - let alone when the guy in the seat next to us is permitted to talk (very loudly and annoyingly) to his office/wife/misstress on his latest shiny.

      1. Cipher

        Re: " that has nothing to do with electronic noise issues."

        Like I say, this has nothing to do with aircraft safety. It has everything to do with making sure that nothing goes unsurveiled. These planes take off, land and fly thru all kinds of electronic clutter as is. Nearby TV transmitters, Ham operators, radio stations, cell towers, etc. all near airports. At 30k feet, they're what, 6 miles from the sources of these transmissions? IF this stuff was a hazard, surely we would have had at least one incident by now, yet there are none... Petraeus goes off the reservation, Bingo! the FBI exposes his affair. Allen's emails as well. Apparently the new Gestapo in DC had been sitting on these for a while and waited until after the election to use them ala Nixon enemies List style to rid themselves of opposition. It is the Chicago way, Obama twice had court records unsealed to derail opponents in his early days in Chicago when running for the US Senate. Divorce details magically show up to sink a candidate in one case.

    3. LarsG

      It's the only

      Time I can get a bit of peace, imagine letting all the Chavs who fly have unfettered access to everything from music players and phones etc etc. In the free for all that follows numerous scenes of air rage will be played out.

      'Look your Honour, he kept playing the same song, after the 70th time asked politely if he would turn the volume down, he did after all have a portable 150W music player, then he was on the phone 50 times shouting in it 'Guess where I am go on GUESS!'

      'So you opened the door and threw him out?'

      'Yes your honour...'

      'A mercy killing, you aremfreemto go, case dismissed!'

  2. Herby

    One small problem...

    When you have portable FM radios (that work from 88-108 MHz), their local oscillator (if using high size injection at 10.7 MHz) can be in the nav aid band (108 MHz to 118 MHz). This is the most likely problem that crops up. You really don't want the VOR receiver in the airplane pointing back to the passenger compartment. True it is unlikely, but you never know.

    This is why they have pacemaker warnings in front of microwave ovens.

    It goes back to the fact that some manufacturers are lazy. They don't put adequate shielding in their devices and as such they are subject to interference. There are exceptions, but still there are lazy manufacturers. Unfortunately the users of the offending equipment are want to blame the generator of the (very slight) interfering signal so they "ban them all".

    As for cell phones, there is another problem. If you are up in the air, you may light up a bunch more cell towers than you would if you were on the ground. Each tower that has to ignore you means that they can't use that frequency. That in turn lowers the capacity of the cell phone network for others using it. Not a good thing!

    So as they say "Its complicated!" (*SIGH*)

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: One small problem...

      ... can be in the nav aid band (108 MHz to 118 MHz)

      Are they actually using that band, or is it just available as a point of argument when they need it? Yes, I agree that things are complicated, but I have a feeling that there are some complications which are, in fact, non-technical.

      1. SkippyBing

        Re: One small problem...

        'Are they actually using that band'

        Yes, yes they are, including ILS systems in the lower portion which could be interesting if the needle starts pointing behind you on finals...

  3. asdf

    security has become political

    Much like the Homeland Security department itself it has become a lot more about politics than security. Most people ride the short bus when it comes to understanding risk and risk mitigation.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: security has become political

      No it hasn't. There is no room for any risk. The only way to mitigate risk is to legislate and intimidate.

  4. Dropper

    Status > Landing

    I can see why updating your Facebook status or getting a txt message would be more important than a pilot reading instruments or being able to communicate. Airline pilots these days are so last decade, what with wanting to approach runways knowing how high up they are or how fast they're going. Can't they just look out the window like everyone else? Is this really a good reason for stopping me from tweeting a photo of my airline napkin and peanuts or watching the latest version of gangnam style on youtube?

    1. nuked

      Re: Status > Landing

      Are you suggesting that all a terrorist has to do is twat a few tweets in order to disable all of the onboard navigation equipment when the plane comes to land?

      I'm pretty sure the risks you allude to are very close to 100% over-stated.

      1. Dropper

        Re: Status > Landing

        Ok.. this is how it works. All electronic equipment emits radio waves when powered on. How strong the inteference and how vulnerable a display device or a communication device is varies. Will you cell/mobe/whatever intefer with an airplane's instruments? Probably not. Could it? Yes. Will it make the plane crash? No. Will it be fucking annoying that your readings jump around a bit every now and then.. yes. Should pilots have to put up with this while they are trying to land a long tube of metal, filled with fuel on a thin strip of tarmack? No.

        1. asdf

          Re: Status > Landing

          Please post one reference of any common consumer electronic device made in the last decade that has been shown to interfere with any device on the plane used by the crew.

          1. -tim

            Re: Status > Landing

            The biggest offender seem to be cheap talking toys. I have yet to find a GSM phone that can't make an ADF point a different direction at the same time as it is causing noise in the headphones. I know if I'm on a plane doing a IFR approach close to the minimums, I would prefer if anything that can be turned off is off.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Status > Landing

            Those stupid Furby toys are specifically banned from use at any stage of flight by many operators because they spew out an incredible amount of RF that can and does produce noise on the aircraft's VHF COM (voice) radios.

            I've experienced this first hand when I used to do charter work in Piper Chieftains.

          3. Annihilator

            Re: Status > Landing

            @asdf - There are anecdotal stories that speak of pilots hearing the tell-tale mobile phone interference in their headsets.

        2. Bob Camp

          Re: Status > Landing

          You had better tell that to the pilots, many of whom use their own phone and GPS to navigate. They also use PCs and tablets in the cockpit for work (and NEVER for personal use, of course).

          All electronic devices have to pass FCC (or European) electronic emissions standards before they are sold. There is the million to one chance that your phone (and only your phone) is somehow defective, and another million to one chance that it would fail in a way that would actually interfere with anything. Also another million to one that the avionics equipment, which has been tested for radiated susceptibility from other devices, is somehow defective in that specific airplane.

          Also, don't forget the 12 cell phone towers aimed right at the tarmac, with transmitters hundreds of times more powerful than your puny cell phone; and the airport's Wi-Fi which can often be detected at the gate.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Status > Landing

      I have to admit to leaving my mobile phone on while flying over Shawbury at 2500ft in cloud with a base of 300ft transiting towards the Wrekin water dripping on my head from a leak in the canopy of a PA28 and having a little flag appear telling me that the VOR was u/s and at the same time my Garmin GPS lost its signal and wouldn't reboot for 15 minutes. As I called Shawbury to let them know I had some minor problems and needed them to keep me on my course so I go back to VFR flight my phone rang, and rang, and rang...

      My headset buzzed and popped for ages until my wife left her message and it was a significant distraction that maybe someone with less hours may have proved fatal. It wasn't the phone that might have caused the crash, it was a build up of a number of problems one of which was the distraction of the phone that I didn't need at the time.

      Needless to say I have written 'phone off' in all seven of the aircraft type checklists I fly.

      1. Mayhem

        Re: Status > Landing

        To be fair, there is a significant difference in shielding between the instruments of a little Piper Cherokee and a Boeing 747. I could easily see interference between your VHF and mobile - the two devices were probably a foot or two apart. I suspect if the phone was in the tail though, you'd have had much less of an issue.

        Easy enough for all small operators to request the turning off of electronic devices on the grounds of potential interference - the plane is small enough that they can smack an offender around the back of the head if necessary.

        A large aircraft on the other hand has an increasingly isolated passenger cabin, for security and noise as much as RF.

        Instruments in the cockpit area should be pretty much completely unaffected at all times.

  5. Jos

    I think the biggest objection was (I could be wrong) that you don't want all those phones switching between cell towers at the rate a plane is flying, multiplied be the number of phones and passengers cruising through the airspace. You can imagine the number and what it does to base stations and networks.

    Hey, when I was doing ppl we'd used to call home to say we were just about to go overhead. The only annoying thing you would get is the same you get on your home/car stereo with the weee-blip-blip-wonk-wak-wak sound over your headset. Then again... 300 pax might make it a tat more annoying.

    Easiest way to kill that is to put micro cells in aircraft though. Same as they do when you stay in a hotel on a floor above 30m or so. Don't even have to switch it through to a network just so to keep the phones not broadcasting all the time. Or do and charge a gazillion dollars in roaming for the self important pricks that want to call home in the middle of a 16 hour flight.

    Laptops and all that stuff don't do anything, but maybe it's a bit more important to pay attention to safety and not having to fold up/pack your "electronic device" when going for a "water landing", while you are below 10.000ft. Just saying

    Cheers all. Enjoy the weekend. I'll raise another beer for the Reg


    1. Piro Silver badge

      More beer? Good work!

    2. Chris Rowland

      The anecdote I have is of a 747 that was gently rocking from side to side in the cruise (on autopilot of course).

      There was a guy in the first row of first class playing a CD player. They got him to turn it off - no rocking - on - rocking.

      I'm sure that a lot of electronics are no problem but I don't think that anyone can guarantee that ALL electronics are no problem. Maybe the flight attendants can have a list of approved equipment and go through the cabin checking what devices people want to use and letting them know ot it's OK or not.

  6. Tom Maddox Silver badge
    Thumb Down


    The main reason I can think of to continue the ban is to retain some kind of peace and quiet on the plane. Screaming babies are bad enough, but the last think I want to endure on a 10+ hour intercontinental flight is drunks yelling into their cell phones. "HEY BRO, GUESS WHERE I AM!"

    If I wanted to endure that sort of behavior, I'd go to the movies more often.

    1. An(other) Droid


      It is funny how irritating screaming/crying babies can be on an aeroplane unless the critter in question is your progeny.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge


        With regard to screaming babies: mine is of course the world's most delightful, funny, charming, peaceful (etc.) grandchild while yours is nothing less than a fiend from the nethermost pits of hell.

        And it's just the same with a mobile phone: yours is inane irritating and above all boring chatter, while my conversation is a matter of life and death.

        Surely this is obvious?

        More seriously, it strikes me that these days random EMC interference is unlikely to be an issue. Things that deliberately or incidentally emit radiation, though, are likely to be at best a concern until proved innocent: radio transmitters such as phones, wireless networks, and two-way radios, and the IF output from radio receivers.

    2. An0n C0w4rd


      I'd love to see a cell phone that works when out of range of land based cell towers.

      1. Soruk


        > I'd love to see a cell phone that works when out of range of land based cell towers.

        When logged into a plane-based cell transmitter, with satellite uplink.

  7. Mike Flugennock
    Thumb Down

    "They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family..."

    ...and they also empower people to irritate the living shit out of their fellow passengers

    "Signs of sanity return", huh? Yeah, we'll see how long the sanity lasts when airliner cabins are full of the sounds of people playing games on their slabs and talking on their phones.

    Report of first "air rage" incident involving somebody punching a cellphone jabberer in the teeth in 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

    1. Rinaldo Doon

      Re: "They empower people to stay informed and connected with friends and family..."

      So the human race has produced people who can't be separated from their so-called friends on Twitface and family for, oh I dunno, a couple of hours?

      And what's so wrong with in-flight 'entertainment' anyway? Not enough 'info'?

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm somewhat afraid to fly, particularly for long flights, because of the number of times I've been asked to "turn off" my insulin pump. I've also of course been asked to turn off my continuous glucose monitor -- which is admittedly a radio device, but with a range of about a foot - even though the *receiver* that they can see is the part that turns off. The transmitter is attached to my stomach and has no "off" capability.

    The first few times I'd argue, invoking phrases like "American Diabetes Association", and - an american favorite - "lawsuit", but lately I just say OK, make the backlight turn off, and pocket it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Diabetes

      "I'm somewhat afraid to fly, particularly for long flights, because of the number of times I've been asked to "turn off" my insulin pump"

      What Airlines ordered you to disconnect your insulin pump? What effects if any, are there from the changes in air pressure?

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: Diabetes

      Turn off your insulin pump? That's trolling far under the bridge.

      There is no airline (in the U.S.or E.U. anyway) that would ever ask you to deactivate a medical device. Post some flight details and the Internet Rage Machine will prevent this from happening again. Otherwise stop just stirring up shite.

  9. An0n C0w4rd

    Missing the point

    Just because tests have yet to prove that consumer electronics doesn't interfere with airplane systems is actually rather irrelevant. The regulations state you have to prove it DOESN'T interfere, which is a different kettle of fish and why it has never been done. Aircraft electrical equipment is revised infrequently and tested thoroughly. The same cannot be said of consumer electronics who are likely to include a different chip or a later revision of a chip at the drop of a hat, with no external indication of the change.

    And its not just systems on the plane you are on that could be affected. Potentially a badly designed/malfunctioning device on a plane in front of yours could interfere with the ILS (Instrument Landing System) signals or other navigation aids and then you're really in trouble. I strongly suspect that is why the plane has to leave the active runway before American Airlines goes on the PA to let people turn on their fondlephones.

    Personally I would like to see the ban lifted, however I retain the right to change my mind if cheap crap designed without proper RF shielding is proven to be an issue.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Missing the point

      The point is that as soon as the airline fits WifI that they charge $15 for, or a pico-cell so they can add $5/min call charges - then suddenly all your gear is OK.

      Now unless they also broke into my house, took my phone/tablet/laptop, tested them and replaced them without me knowing - we are in exactly the same risk situation we were before.

      It's just that now they have a $$$$ reason for allowing them, while in the days of sky-phone and charge-for headsets they had a $$$ reason for banning them.

  10. Dr. Ellen


    So what about my computerized hearing aids?

    Governments shouldn't make laws that breed contempt. It only makes it easier to ignore the laws that really MEAN something. If an airplane is made electrically-invulnerable enough to live through a lightning strike, I doubt my MP3 player is going to cause problems. Devices with transmitters or speakers, now that is a different matter. With speakers, most of the other passengers will help enforce the rule!

  11. SirDigalot

    I don't think the FAA

    really gives two tosses about how many cell towers are lit up if you are using a cell phone on a plane, cell carriers maybe but the FAA do not concern themselves with the trivialities of telecoms companies!

    <------ the one with the mercury thermometer in the pocket

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: I don't think the FAA

      The FCC do. The ban was written up after tests showed AMPS systems could be blotted out on one channel for several hundred mles in every direction from a 3W bag phone at 30,000feet - and the ban was only on phones above 5000 feet, specifically so they could continue to be used on GA craft and Helicopters (The "blot" range at 5,000 feet is only about 10 miles and this was felt to be a reasonable compromise.

      AMPS is (almost) ancient history. GSM/CDMA and all their TDMA brethren have built in defenses against flying phones.

      FAA bans on electronics switched on during critical flight phases date back to the 1960s, when people did do such thing as try to listen to FM radios while in the air or using radio-controlled toys in the aisles on transatlantic flights (in at least some cases, high power CB transmitters were keyed on). Modern electronics is a lot better at coping with (and generating) interference than old kit, but anything which splatters over aircraft navigation bands was and is a problem. ILO interference was regarded as a factor in at least one fatal crash.

      Yes, passenger-carried equipment has been fingered as the cause of problems on multiple occasions - usually the evidence is "Pilots asked the passenger to switch off the device and interference went away", but sometimes crosschecked with "Pilots asked the passenger to switch the device back on and the interference returned"

      At the end of the day though, the rule is "What the pilot says, goes" - and pilots tend to err on the side of caution when they have a couple of hundred people behind them on the bus. Their concerns are as much about disorder as interference. I've heard warnings on several airlines that electronic devices must not be used in ways which annoy other passengers - and seen cabin staff enforce those rules.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I agree on the "re-think"

    ALL and I do mean ALL electronic devices should be banned when the plane is in operation other than parked at the gate. Not only is there a risk of electronic interference there is a very hugh annoyance factor by inconsiderate fellow flyers yapping on their cellphone or blasting their music. Anyone who really needs to use an electronic device while flying should ride in the cargo hold.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: I agree on the "re-think"

      So what if you're just playing Angry Birds over headphones? No one hears you, and it can run in Airplane Mode, meaning no transmissions? And before you say, "the bright screen," why doesn't this happen with booklights?

    2. Mike Flugennock

      Re: I agree on the "re-think"

      Just upvoted you on that. I'd even go so far as to say that mobile phones and Crackberries should be shut off while on the plane, period.

      A few years or so ago, when arriving home in DC from a trip to Montreal, the plane had barely touched down and started taxiing to the arrival gate when some woman a few rows in front of me whips out her mobile, calls a relative in the city, and starts engaging in a heated argument about some private family issue loudly enough to be heard by every passenger within eight or ten rows of her seat.

      This, of course, is on top of having to endure the en masse whipping out of mobiles as soon as the plane is down and taxiing to the jetway. My wife and I fly at least twice a year to and from Mexico from DC via DFW, and it never fails -- wheels down, plane starts taxiing to arrival gate, and immediately nearly everybody who has a mobile on them has whipped them out and started calling somebody. Christ, is it going to kill them to wait five minutes until they're off the plane to dial up someone and announce HEY! I'M IN DALLAS/PUERTO VALLARTA/DC, DUDE!"

      (Full disclosure: sometimes, while on the plane, I like to watch movies on my laptop with headphones, after shutting off FireWire and Bluetooth.)

    3. Don Jefe

      Re: I agree on the "re-think"

      I do kind of agree with you, but when you're parked at the gate you aren't even allowed to get up and pee, even if you are parked/taxing for an hour or more.

      Flying in the sky 30k feet up? Feel free to move about the plane and pee or root through your bags. Stuck on the ground remain in your seat and piss your pants but you can play angry birds if you want.

      Airlines are a weird thing and almost nothing about them makes good sense.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: I agree on the "re-think"

        Prior to takeoff, they want you in the seats so they can check for missing passengers (especially passengers who presented their boarding passes but are not on board--they're either lost or a safety risk, either way you have to check up). Upon landing, there's a pecking order to disembarking and they're trying to enforce it.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I agree on the "re-think"

          In the US you are generally allowed to use cell phones wile taxing - in the UK you can't use them until you are inside the terminal - because other aircraft may be being refuelled.

          This is because US aircraft run on Jet-A (kerosene) which - if you have ever owned an AGA - you will know can only be ignited with a small nuclear device. British aircraft apparently run on a mixture of shaken Nitroglycerin and lithium tri-iodide.

  13. stucs201

    Never understood how I'm meant to switch my digital watch off.

    I've never seen one with an off switch, but they've definately got electronics in them.

    1. Anonymous C0ward

      What about my TI eZ430-Chronos?

      It's a programmable watch with a low-power radio transceiver.

  14. Maverick

    well what a bunch

    of intolerant buggers you are! :)

    in August on a train after my summer hols to London

    a woman opposite was very rude to me - all I was doing was LISTENING on an ear piece to call, miserable bitch!

    so I moved when another table came free at next station

    then she got a lady + 4 young kids (not all her own) sat next to / opposite her, all very excited, one with headphones singing loudly, brother complaining also loudly + other excited :)

    bloke (= complete wanker) opposite her calling all his mates to tell them he had Olympic tickets, then arrange his Saturday golf game

    what did I do wrong? will guess that I missed the opportunity to

    1) tell the sour faced bitch to get her sorry fat arse to the "quiet coach"

    2) tell the sour faced bitch that I was doing a deal to keep 250 people in work for the next 5 years (she was SO damned busy that she was reading chick mag - so probably one of very many parasitic civil servants without a REAL job)

    3) wish her a nice day as we left and say "careful what you wish for bitch in future"



  15. corestore

    Bugger in the air...

    ...when are they going to do something about those jobsworth little Hitler security cretins who think they can give you a hard time during the hours it takes you to pass through immigration and pick up your bags once you're back on the ground? What possible danger is there in an immigration queue or baggage hall?! "No phone calls! No text messages! Who do you think you are, you can't use the internet HERE?! One more email and I'll have you arrested!" Errr yes, you and what army, and on what charge my dear?

    Last time I checked you needed some pretty serious grounds for holding someone incommunicado, and there's no signing warning you lose your first amendment rights when you get off a bloody plane!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bugger in the air...

      They'll just make something up and pack you into a locked room. I guess that you didn't hear that Massa Obama was able to get the "detention without charges" clause in the NDAA reactivated. The US government voted itself the ability to detain US citizens on US soil without charges as part of an "anti-terrorist" bill. Never mind that it's unconstitutional, you probably don't have the money to hire a good enough lawyer to take the complaint to the Supreme Court. Even if you do, it's easier to just wait a few more minutes to update your Facebook page along with all of the other 16 year old girls.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Bugger in the air...

        Well, if you will insist on living in the planets richest third world country....

    2. EvilGav 1
      Thumb Down

      Re: Bugger in the air...

      Whilst you are still airside (i.e. before going through customs) you are effectively in limbo (on international flights) - you don't exist in the country you left and you aren't yet in the country you arrived at. You have no rights.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Canada (was Re: Bugger in the air...)

        "You have no rights."

        Too true. Many years ago I traveled to Calgary from Chicago, I was on a skiing trip and had my ski gear with me.

        Canadian customs, having viewed my passport and seeing who sponsored my L1 visa, decided I was really going to Canada to steal work from struggling Canadians. So, they escorted me to a locked room and left me for 7 hours. Sometime around 11PM the heavies arrived and recited Canadian law and informed me I was not wanted in Canada under paragraph something or other and that I was to be deported the next morning. My passport was withheld, and I had to find my own digs for the evening. I was directed to arrive for the 7am Air Canada flight to ORD the next morning. i was at that time provided with a ticket and escorted to the aircraft.

        I still have the paper ticket, upon which the price printed was "FREE".

        Anonymous, naturally - but the story is none the less true.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Airliner brought down by Angry Bird-strike!

    That is all...except maybe for the plane behind it that pankcaked because someone had a whole Raspberry Pi!!

    Black helicopter, because they're out there right now, slurping up my all my electronic communications, I know they are.....

    1. James O'Brien

      Re: Airliner brought down by Angry Bird-strike!

      Don't understand why someone down voted this. I had a good chuckle reading it. Humorless plods :P

  17. Cipher

    Much easier to track and record data if the devices are turned on and fully operational...

    I don't beleive that there is any other reason other to facilitate NSA/FBI scanning...

  18. Mahou Saru


    Don't planes go near thunder storms?

    I'm pretty sure that the electronic bits must be proofed against them, so how the {insert expletive of choice} can my piddly little gadget affect it?

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Bwuh...

      Simple. Lightning is OUTSIDE, and since the plane isn't contacting earth, at worst the bolt would go around the outer shell and onward. We haven't had lightning down a plane in nearly 50 years. The gadgets are all INSIDE and therefore inside the EM-shielding shell. Plus many planes are decades old: well before the age of rampant consumer electronics.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Bwuh...

        There's a suspicion that lightning played a small part in the downing of a transatlantic 747 in the early 1990s (The plane blew apart after a spark in the wingbox fuel tank ignited vapours. SInce then all 747s were retrofitted (initially with nitrogen bottles) to provide an inert atmosphere in tank airspaces)

      2. Philip Lewis

        Re: Bwuh...

        I have been inside a modern aircraft that was struck by lightning. It scares the living shit out of you. Even for someone like me with a few of million miles on the clock. There were no apparent bad results and I am here to tell the tale.

        The reason we were anywhere near lightning (pilots studiously avoid it if they can), was that we were on approach to LHR.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: " inside a modern aircraft that was struck by lightning."

          There's modern, and there's modern.

          Aircraft traditionally have lots (callit 100%?) of metal in the wings and fuselage, and the behaviour in lightning strike is well understood.

          Some trendy modern aircraft have carbon fibre composite instead in many places. The vendors and airframe builders say "don't worry, it'll be OK". So we'd better trust them, right?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bwuh...

      The body of the plane is a Faraday cage. Your "piddly little gadget" is on the inside.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bwuh...

      "Don't planes go near thunder storms?"

      No, they don't, not voluntarily, not if the driver wants to maximise his chance of arriving OK.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Annoying air travellers?

    "There's no denying that the ban annoys air travelers, particularly since the rules as they stand make little sense"

    Do we really want to listen to vacuous one-sided mobile chatter on long flights ?

  20. MachDiamond Silver badge

    No talking

    I find it hard to believe that anybody is able to get a phone connected at cruising altitude. It's several miles up while you are jacketed by an aluminum can (or carbon fibre if you are on a 787). Cell phones are probably not going to mess up an airplane's electronics. The blanket ban on electronics just makes it easier for flight crew or they would have to remember pages of approved and disapproved devices. And, that list would change every month. Not all radio devices are certified by some government agency like the FCC. There is a ton of kit on eBay that made in asia, is illegal to operate nearly everywhere and suffers from almost non-existant quality control. Take a book or a magazine to stay occupied until you can fire up the mp3 player or a movie on the laptop.

  21. Haku

    "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy"

    Louis CK on Conan O'Brien's show - watch and enjoy, or listen to a longer (uncut sweary) version.

  22. tkioz

    You left out one of the major reasons for the ban to stay... PROFIT. If customers are prevented from using their own devices they'll either use the ones provided (such as in-flight movies) or other ways to dull the pain of travel (booze!).

    Who the hell would use those stupid airline provided things if you could use your own stuff?

    1. Anonymous Coward


      You were on the right track, but then missed the turn:

      Profit is a motive, but you don't think for one moment that the wifi or picocell connection is going to be gratis, do you? Maybe for the politicians and CEO's in fist class it will be, but for the rest of us peasants I'll wager a whole lot of money that we're talking about the sort of eye watering charges that you thought died out in the last century.

      The airlines can't wait for the ban to go, I suspect. All they need to do is put in the picocell equivalent of a 14.4k modem (shared by all 300 passengers), lash up a pay to play wifi registration page, and arrange a premium rate on all voice calls (incoming and outgoing, just like international roaming works).

      And the best thing of all for the airlines? That on longer flights passengers won't be in the jurisdiction of any telecoms regulator, and they can charge what they like.

      1. Shooter

        Re: @Ledswinger

        "fist class"

        Can't decide if that typo is deliberate or not...

      2. Philip Lewis

        Re: @tkioz

        Well, you would be wrong.

        It's free on Norwegian and it works pretty damned well. Not all airlines are American (though the one's that hate their customers almost always are).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Only the clueless use electronic toys in flight

      The majority of airline travelers have better sense than to lug electronic toys with them for flight. Only the clueless who need to entertain themselves haul this crap onboard. The younger generation in particular are easily bored. They wouldn't think of watching a movie or reading or doing something educational. They desire to be entertained 24/7. That explains electronic toys, Farcebook and social media.

      1. Greg J Preece


        You sound like such a moaning old fart I'm tempted to call troll.

        They wouldn't think of watching a movie or reading or doing something educational. They desire to be entertained 24/7. That explains electronic toys, Farcebook and social media.

        I'd love to know how you're going to watch a movie without an electronic "toy". And I read a lot, from an electronic reader. If my solutions to being bored on a flight are inferior to yours because they're newer, then I suggest you go the whole hog and take an aeroprop to your destination. I'll be waiting for you in the bar at the other end, watching YouTube vids to pass the time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @AC

          "And I read a lot, from an electronic reader"

          A book too heavy for your puny little boy arms? Stop trying to justify your childish little strop.

          1. Charles 9

            Re: @AC

            No, too heavy and too big for the draconian weight and size limits imposed on carry-on luggage. Ever thought we necessarily have to carry other stuff along for the trip and that the checked luggage is either expensive or already packed? Books are bulky and take up precious space. An e-reader can reduce all that to something the size of a Reader's Digest, without the need to condense the content of the books. And before you think "1984", the reader I use can and does accept unprotected ePub formats which the distributors cannot control.

          2. Greg J Preece

            Re: @AC

            A book too heavy for your puny little boy arms? Stop trying to justify your childish little strop.

            Strop? He's moaning about electronics, then watching the in-flight movie, and I'm wondering how. I might also be taking the piss somewhat.

            Unless you have an answer for how he can sit on a modern, electronically controlled airliner, watching a digitally recorded film via an electronic device, and have the testicular elephantitis required to call anything he doesn't use a "toy" for them filthy young 'uns...

            Or do electronic things scare you, old man?

      2. Charles 9

        Re: Only the clueless use electronic toys in flight

        As for those in-flight movies, almost always (1) I've seen it before or (2) I'm not interested. The in-flight music is a bore, and I usually go through the magazine before takeoff. Books are bulky and there is a carry limit, so I'll go with my e-reader or listen to music I really like on my iPod (one of the older ones that focused on music).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Only the clueless use electronic toys in flight

        "The majority of airline travelers have better sense than to lug electronic toys with them for flight. Only the clueless who need to entertain themselves haul this crap onboard. The younger generation in particular are easily bored. They wouldn't think of watching a movie or reading or doing something educational. They desire to be entertained 24/7. That explains electronic toys, Farcebook and social media."

        BANG ON!

  23. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    The obvious reason for the request to lift the ban...

    ... is that the Yanks have finally developed their own in-house electronics.

    They slapped the ban on when the Europeans developed an in-plane phone system and allowed it in European aircraft several years ago. Fairly standard practice in US aviation. If it's not invented here, ban it until we have a home-grown product....

  24. no_RS

    Passenger generated electro-smog..

    The real issue is the immunity of the RF systems (particularly safety critical ones) is probably well known by now but the sources of potential interference brought in by the passengers are not. This leads to a situation where several identical devices operating together may actually exceed the immunity level of an aircraft system causing mis-operation. Some devices are very popular so many passengers on the plane could have the same device or using the same interface e.g. Wi-Fi, it's all about emissions adding up.

    The passengers would be pretty unhappy if they got lost or worse because of passenger generated electro-smog, being disconnected for a few hours is not too high a price to pay for getting to your destination in one piece.

    1. Rambler88

      Re: Passenger generated electro-smog..

      "but the sources of potential interference brought in by the passengers are not."

      Amen. No telling what's coming from China next year.

      "several identical devices operating together may actually exceed the immunity level of an aircraft system"

      And if it's a popular toy, the RF-safety alpha testing will begin en masse on the day of release.

  25. fawlty
    Big Brother


    Is that the same rules that say airlines shouldn't force pilots to work up to the max of their capability to stay awake, or that say pilots shouldn't have a dram for courage once every now and then before a flight?

    Probably also the ones that say I'm not allowed to take 125ml of deoderant into the cabin in case I'm a lunatic hell bent on destruction.

    None of the Russians on my last trip to Moscow paid any attention to a mobile phone ban so what's the point of having one? Better to invest the money spent on a ban on better shielding, or a better idea I like from a previous commentard of putting a cell on every plane. Then, even if you didn't want to sell air time you could play a message back to anyone using the network that said you're flouting the ban, and you won't get through.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    The usual nonsense

    The ban is utterly ridiculous, but in true Brit style can I suggest a compromise?

    1. Use your devices all you like.

    2. But no talking.

    3. And no one else must be able to hear what you are doing with it.

    So you can text/tweet/email all you like but the rest of us can get some sleep/do some work/concentrate on doing whatever.

    Penalty for violation - confiscation of said device by grumpy, armed air marshal.

    'Course, take someone's phone away and they'll be the first to whine about their f**king first amendment rights.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. dssf

      Re: The usual nonsense... shutter clicks and monkeys...

      Do not forget Korea- and Japan- based mobiles and tablets.

      Due to fucking pervs snapping photos under girl's dresses on escalators, and on trains and platforms by lens-tipped shoes, the phones sold TO those markets must hsve audible shitter clicks. It is most utterly stupid and annoying a tactical response, though. To my mind, the real response should be to detect the offender by monitoring mics, then seizing the phone, and physically punishing the offender. But, seriously, the hardened/hardcore pervs just root their phones to kill the click.

      My galaxy tab is annoying as fuck cue to the shutter clicks. My pocket panasonic and htc evo 4g sold in the usa market are my main snappers, though for quicker updares, i use my tab, or for snapping food and items not banned, i use my tab.

      Witth a bazillion immature or memorabilia-minded girls in coffee shos, on trains, and in buses snapping away, it produces numbness in many surrounding people. In me, though, it induces rage. I expect shutter clicks from bona fide mechanical classic cameras or those with real shiputters, not devices that only have rocker switches and special buttons as their only moving parts.


      Now, in Asia, the shutter clicks probably serve a side purpose of shutting down snappers. But, i will have to ask around to find out which Asian countries come down hard on the recalcitrant snapper.

      And, then, all those monkey games... Cute and funny at first. But, it would be pure hell having to listen to berserk digital monkeys on a longer-than-20-minutes flight...

      1. Charles 9

        Re: Not a good idea

        Didn't the voyeurs beat that rap by switching to HDTV-resolution video cameras in the shoes? Since they record audio, they CAN'T have shutter sounds or any other kind of indicator that could bleed into the scene, and the ones that don't bleed they can conceal.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Safety rules

    In addition to the very real safety concerns, there is no God given right to subject other people to your inappropriate conduct. If you are that ignorant you are not suitable to use public transportation.

  28. Chubbymoth

    Crash and Burn

    1995, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

    Guy walks into my office,.. his phone rings, he picks it up and every friggin computer in my office shuts down and reboots... Freaky ain't it. Mobes that time operated on the 90 Mhz bandwith I think.. so did my Pentiums.

    I for one always ask anyone I see using a phone in an airplane to turn it off after that experience. Oh poopsy,.. you wanna play Angry Birds? Well,.. maybe once we're in flight? And there are plenty of examples of airplanes dropping from the sky without explanation to make someone edgy. Turn it off please,.. or I'll have to kill you.. Huh? Yes,.. quite mad.. and dangerous at the slightest provocation... Thank you miss...have a nice flight.

    Granted,.. modern CPU's live on another frequency, but LTE is in the 2.4 Ghz range? How possible is it that some badly designed mobe emits an EM pulse through that?

    1. Greg J Preece

      Re: Crash and Burn

      I for one always ask anyone I see using a phone in an airplane to turn it off after that experience.

      Yes, because '95 phones and Pentiums are IDENTICAL to an Airbus A330.. And I think your understanding of CPU clock speeds may be somewhat flawed...

      And there are plenty of examples of airplanes dropping from the sky without explanation to make someone edgy.

      No there aren't. It might take longer in some cases than others to figure out why a plane crashed, but most accidents are resolved to a startling degree of accuracy. You might stop paying attention when the crash leaves the newspapers, but the NTSB, etc don't. Most people still think Air France 447 was never resolved, for example. Nonsense.

      Turn it off please,.. or I'll have to kill you.. Huh? Yes,.. quite mad.. and dangerous at the slightest provocation... Thank you miss...have a nice flight.

      You sound more dangerous than the devices. Dick.

      1. An ominous cow heard

        Re: "Air France 447 was never resolved"

        In the case of AF447, a selection of allegedly very improbable things happened on the same flight at roughly the same time. Some of them were so improbable that the regulators and airframe builders considered they could be ignored (e.g. the chance of flying through rough weather rather than round it was considered negligible, not waking up the Captain when things started getting rough:negligible, identical failures of two out of three pitot tubes:negligible, iirc). Which is a shame for the friends and family involved.

        Negligible doesn't mean won't ever happen.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  29. Gary S.

    American logic

    It's okay for the United States government to inspect its citizens' crotches for toothpaste and demand that foreigners submit themselves to the DHS before ever leaving their own soil, because these might keep us safe, somehow. But being asked to put away untested electronics on final approach? Unacceptable!

    I don't get it. Why is trampling Constitutional rights an acceptable sacrifice for "safety", but pausing Angry Birds an intolerable encroachment of our liberties?

  30. Anonymous Coward


    Well when we go back to valve radios and compasses and the pilots actually navigating on a table with a compass and a chronometer - with cables, rods and hydraulics, operating everything - then by fuck it... we shall have everyone on board lighting up with megawatts of illuminations from the devil.

    No smoking mind you, all your seats are tins of motor spirit with a cushion on top.

  31. Cyberelic

    Screaming little bastards...

    quote - It is funny how irritating screaming/crying babies can be on an aeroplane unless the critter in question is your progeny. - unquote

    Sometimes I think people deliberately bring their little bastards to supermarkets to exercise their (the bastards) lungs. Why else do they then ignore them.


  32. Aldous

    Brace Brace

    So imagine a birdstrike on final approach leading to the above statement.

    cue loads of lawsuits from all the muppets with headphones in at full volume (long term stock investment tip:hearing aids) who bang there heads into their beloved iWotsits

    10 minutes each end of a flight with no electronics the horror

  33. Greg J Preece

    Christ, there's some miserable old farts on here, especially considering it's a tech site. If there's some class of consumer device that brings down planes, it hasn't managed it yet, and if it exists, then leave that class of device banned. Other than that, why assume that "electronic device" refers to "something that will annoy your whingeing arse"?

    Everything is electronic these days. I've been harassed before for an eBook reader. It barely uses any power to begin with, but no, can't read for large sections of the flight. That would be some alternate dimension...

    If I want to fire up my PSP on a flight, how is that any different to you watching the in-flight movie? And if my PSP or reader is going to bring down the plane, why wouldn't your wristwatch or the headset monitor? I wouldn't be surprised if my own body put out a larger EM field than some of the electronic kit I use.

    The fear over EM fields here is exactly the same as the fear over wireless routers in schools; a load of crap perpetuated by people who don't get how stuff works. As for "keep them banned, I'm grumpy", no thanks. You can stare at the back of the seat in front for 10 hours if you like. I'm going to play God of War.

    1. pxd

      At last, the voice of reason . . .

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Grow up son. You know nothing.

      If it ain't tested as being no harm, banned they should remain.

      What's wrong with you? You must pull out a device for a poxy 10 hours!


      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        The same thing applies to underwear.

        AFAIK there is no established FAA standard for thongs so they should be removed before take off

      2. Greg J Preece

        What's wrong with you? You must pull out a device for a poxy 10 hours!

        I enjoy keeping my brain stimulated? I'll admit, that's a clear difference between us.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All this armchair RF engineering is absolutely fascinating. I will be sure to think of it when I am next flying to divers Scandinavian nations, with free in-flight wifi internet access :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      The onboard systems are all properly electrically shielded to prevent interference, unlike carry-on electronics which can generate a lots of RFI and EMI when there are many unshielded devices.

  35. Stu J

    The problem below 10,000ft is distraction

    The reason they want electrical equipment turned off below 10,000ft is so that if there's an emergency, they know that you a) can hear the cabin crew announcements and b) are more likely to pay attention to them than if you were playing Angry Birds on your Fondleslab. Hence the no in-flight entertainment until the flight's underway. The electrical interference thing is just a cover...

  36. cortland

    Aviation Safety Reporting System on passenger electronics problems in flight

    The FCC does not CARE if you turn on electronic toys, computers, DVD payers, e-readers or (gasp) sex machines in flight. they had asked the FAA to forbid use of cellphones aloft because too many cellular sites could be accessed at one time from a height.

    The FAA, however, has its own reasons. The FAA wants aircraft not to experience loss of communication or navigation links, unwanted activation of collision or terrain avoidance systems, and other safety-affecting glitches that are or could be caused by passenger use of electronic devices.

    The Aviation Safety Reporting System published a document in late July with synopses and details of 50 incidents as of that month, in which passenger electronic devices figures. Many do involve interference with aircraft systems, and some are well enough buttressed by their narratives to be very credible.



    CRJ200 First Officer reports compass system malfunctions during initial climb.

    When passengers are asked to verify that all electronic devices are turned off the

    compass system returns to normal.






    These are voluntary pilot reports, not the well researched and edited result of investigations. Some are credible, some are not, and some aren't about interference, but things like batteries or power supplies on fire or exploding. Harmless stuff,eh?

    I like ACN: 673795 (21 of 50). Search down to that and you'll see why. Others approach its narrative impact.

    Is "impact" the wrong word?

    Bonafides: I have worked as an Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) engineer for 30 years,five of the last six years on aircraft electronics EMC design, test, and remediation of problems. I had previously spent 14 of my 21 years in the US Army as an Avionics repairman, supervisor and instructor.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    WI-FI enables planes!

    Flew a connector flight from Boston to JFK on a plane that was WIFI enabled and usable during the flight...

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Keep them banned!

    I dont want to be sat next to someone tap tap atpping away for hours. There is just no need. Your not on a flight for anything other than getting from A to B.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Take the bus

    If you can't live without your electronic toys, take the bus.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Take the bus

      Hard to take a bus from London to New York or Detroit to Nagoya. Last I checked, buses and oceans don't mix.

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