Re-examining the Use Of Electronic Devices Onboard a Plane

What if you forget to turn off your phone in an airplane?! Mayday!There must be a reason why cabin crews never fail to ask passengers to turn off cell phones in an airplane. The most popular belief—more like a MYTH!—is that your cellular phones and portable electronic devices (PEDs) will cause an electromagnetic interference (EMI; a phenomena that occur when the electromagnetic field of an electronic device disrupts or disturbs another device’s that is in close proximity) that would lead to a plane crash.

There are no recorded accounts of planes crashing down because of a turned on phone. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the national aviation authority of the United States of America, has re-examined the use of cell phones while on a passenger aircraft. The study’s main goal was to determine the impact on passengers’ experience, flight and cabin crews, and most importantly on safety. Currently, the FAA regulations forbid usage of all PEDs during flight—the exceptions are: hearing aids, , heart pacemakers, portable voice recorders, , and other PEDs that will not cause communication interference and/or navigation as determined by the aircraft operator. The study was based on accounts from non-US aviation authorities that allowed an on-board cellular telephone with base stations.

electronic devices onboard

The following are excerpts from the study as reported by non-US aviation authorities.
Impact on passengers’ experience:

  • Most authorities reported no negative comments or complaints from passengers.
  • Jordan noted complaints regarding loud conversations from passengers.
  • United Arab Emirates reported one complaint about the cost of using the cell phone service.

Impact on flight and cabin crew members:

  • France commented that flight and cabin crews expressed concerns about the impact on health regarding radio frequency (RF) that are radiated by cell phones in the plane. The operator demonstrated to the in-flight crew that the cell phones used have electromagnetic compatibility (EMC).

Impact on safety:

  • There were no confirmed reports of cell phones affecting flight safety, according to the aviation authorities.
  • Authorities from Australia, Brazil, France, Ireland, and UK commented that when the on-board cellular telephone base stations were installed on aircraft, the installer demonstrated the devices will not interfere with the aircraft’s systems.

The study’s overall findings showed a general consensus: use of cell phones on-board an aircraft do not equal a plane crashing. Under FAA regulation, an pilot is accountable for analyzing and determining which PEDs may be used by the passengers and when they can use such devices. It is up to aircraft operators to impose policies regarding the use of PEDs and what type of PEDs they will allow onboard.

This is not an easy task. Aircraft operators will need to test every electronic device and every aircraft. Imagine all the available electronic devices you can bring on a plane. Every device must go through an EMC compliance process to determine if it is generally safe to use onboard. Each of those has to be screened and tested for its electromagnetic shielding—the process of reducing the influence of electromagnetic field on a device. This will involve countless hours and millions of dollars.

A possible end result? A single flight fare goes sky high, pun certainly intended!It’s easy to regulate turning off cell phones than to go through extensive and expensive testing of devices. For now, it is up to an aircraft operator whether you can use your PED on a plane.

Planning to catch up reading novels on your e-book reader while on a 12-hour flight? Or perhaps, planning to fill up your iPad with videos to watch onboard? Well, make sure to check with your airline first. You wouldn’t want to be escorted out of a flight for failing to comply with flight policies regarding electronic devices. Better to be safe than sorry.

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