Business Week adds Valuable Safety Information to PED Debate allowing ARC to do its Technical Work

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ARTICLE: Turning Off IPhone Essential to Pilots Reporting Interference


There’s a lot of misinformation being displayed about the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) on board aircraft. The FAA has initiated a review panel composed of experts to examine this complex issue.

Hopefully, the information included in this Business Week article will allow that process to run its course and to devise a rule that assures safety while allowing acceptable passenger convenience, instead of the hysterical calls for immediate repeal. Here are a few of the cogent points made in this article:

  • “’The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved,’ the unidentified co-pilot told NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about the 2011 incident.”
  • “Laboratory tests have shown some devices broadcast radio waves powerful enough to interfere with airline equipment, according to NASA, aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. (BA) and the U.K.’s Civil Aviation Authority “
  • “In one 2004 test, a now-discontinued Samsung Electronics Co. wireless phone model’s signal was powerful enough to blot out global-positioning satellites, according to NASA. The device, which met all government standards, was tested because a corporate flight department had discovered the phone rendered a plane’s three GPS receivers useless, NASA’s researchers reported. “
  • “A log kept by the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association airline trade group recorded 75 cases of suspected interference from 2003 to 2009, Perry Flint, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview.”

Unlike the loud, unsubstantiated statements by high-ranking officials who know little, passengers who know even less and technically challenged elected representatives, these are technically sound, factual articulation of valid concerns.

There might be some PEDs that do not interfere with the on board navigational systems and there may be “modes” which can be used to reduce such potential problems. Equally possible are PEDs which have been damaged in a way that will cause its signal to operate beyond its limits. There is no list of PEDs or of modes which do not pose threats. That is why the Administrator convened the Aviation Rulemaking Committee.

One oracle argues that allowing all PEDs on board will reduce the flight attendants’ burden to police their use on board. The Business Week article makes it clear that the reverse is true. Without some very clear rule which identifies riskless PEDs, the same flight attendants would have to examine the type and model of the instrument and/or assess what mode it is in.

The ARC should move to complete its safety mission. Hopefully the technical contributions will be substantive, definitive statements and not generalizations like this piece from Apple. There may be no easy answers and unlimited PED freedom may not be the right response. The unfettered PED convenience of passengers need not overwhelm valid safety concerns.

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1 Comment on "Business Week adds Valuable Safety Information to PED Debate allowing ARC to do its Technical Work"

  1. Andrea Sachs does a great job of reviewing this complex, frequently unduly simplified issue. Worth reading–

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