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Cellphones Handhelds Transportation Wireless Networking

Personal Electronics May Indeed Disrupt Avionics 505

Posted by timothy
from the so-we'll-sell-you-wifi-service dept.
mattrwilliams writes "There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that points to personal electronics being a real issue on board planes. Dave Carson of Boeing, the co-chair of a federal advisory committee that investigated the problem of electronic interference from portable devices, says that PEDs radiate signals that can hit and disrupt highly sensitive electronic sensors hidden in the plane's passenger area, including those for an instrument landing system used in bad weather."
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Personal Electronics May Indeed Disrupt Avionics

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  • ...really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:39PM (#36390822)

    There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence

    Need I say more?

  • Fiberoptics (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ranger (1783) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:41PM (#36390854) Homepage
    If planes switched to fiber optics and got rid of copper wiring I'm sure that would reduce the likelihood of interference. I can hardly wait for the day people will be able to use their cell phones on those long haul flights.
  • Easy Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ArhcAngel (247594) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:42PM (#36390862)
    A couple of coats of lead based paint will take care of that.
  • And (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Osgeld (1900440) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:43PM (#36390884)

    These planes can take direct lightning hits but the sensors cant handle a cell signal that's going to be there weather the phone is off or not?

    does not compute

  • Re:...really? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:46PM (#36390930)

    There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence

    Need I say more?

    It would help, because the evidence that electronic devices do not disrupt avionics is also anecdotal.

    The real issue? If the FAA was more regulatory agency and less cheerleader, then they would work with the FCC to create standards for acceptable levels of electronic emissions from electronic devices on aircraft, personal or otherwise. There's FCC Part 15 that says that I can't radiate enough noise to jam TVs and cordless phones, and FCC Part 68 which says what you can hook up to the public telephone system. There's no reason there can't be an FCC/FAA part whatever that specifies emission limits for equipment brought aboard aircraft.

    ... Cue Ron Paul crowd saying that there should be a market-based alternative to these regulations, without giving feasible examples.

  • Re:And (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xiph1980 (944189) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:48PM (#36390958)
    What's your point? Those are two entirely different things.
    Some appliances can handle a firehose spraying directly at them, but break when subjected to water vapor.. Just as related, actually, no even more related.
  • by wbav (223901) <Guardian.Bob+Slashdot@gmail.com> on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:50PM (#36391014) Homepage Journal
    1. Personal electronics are safe, this is just BS.
    2. Personal electronics are not safe, thus if a terrorist wants to crash a plane, all they need to do is use an iPad.

    I mean TSA takes away bottled water, if the iPad was really threat, why don't they take those too? Better resale value than the bottled water.
  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:51PM (#36391020)

    There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence

    Need I say more?

    Actually, yes. How about something regarding consequences? Say 100+ people in a fragile machine, surround by flammable liquids, moving at a high rate of speed and doing so with limited to no visibility outside the machine having a "mishap" because someone had to check twitter? There are some activities where an excess of caution is warranted, personally I believe that needing to use an ***instrument landing system because of bad weather*** is one such activity.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:51PM (#36391028)

    The real world is not as simple as your freshman physics/engineering class would have you think.

  • Re:...really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chemicaldave (1776600) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @01:55PM (#36391114)
    Disrupted from cell phones or enemy weapons designed to disrupt?
  • Re:...really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shadowrat (1069614) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @02:00PM (#36391200)
    Not to mention that if an effect is real and measurable, it will have anecdotal evidence.

    I think it's pretty indisputable that electronic devices can cause interference in other devices be they tvs, radios, or airplanes. Is a cell phone going to bring down a plane? I seriously doubt it, but i'd like to think that aviation as a rule is a risk averse field. Why use up resources chasing after these ghosts when the simple solution is just turn your cell phones off?

    What the airlines should probably do is offer reward miles to people who turn their phones off promptly on the plane.
  • by bughunter (10093) <<ten.knilhtrae> <ta> <retnuhgub>> on Thursday June 09, 2011 @02:03PM (#36391258) Journal

    As an engineer who designs and integrates RF systems every day, all day, I have two impressions. And as a systems engineer, I'll describe them in terms of the two elements of risk: probability and impact.

    FTFA: "In other events described in the report, a clock spun backwards and a GPS in cabin read incorrectly while two laptops were being used nearby."

    First: Crap like that ain't supposed to happen. An airplane designed and built to standards for commercial passenger service must meet standards for electromagnetic susceptibility, interference tolerance, workmanship, etc. It's not the passengers' fault that things like that happen. Nor is it the direct fault of the manufacturer of the electronics that passengers carry. If something is that mission critical, and the cost of failure is measured in human lives, then engineers, inspectors, regulators, and operations crew damn well better make sure the likelihood of failure is as close to zero as can be.

    Second: I know damn well that grounding and shielding is one of the most difficult aspects of any high-frequency electronics system. It's difficult to design, grounding and shielding design rules aren't generally taught as part of undergraduate EE curriculum (much less Aeromechanical, CS, etc.), and the manufacturing techniques are prone to failure and not easy to inspect and test. Therefore, statistically, a passenger that travels one or two times a year is likely to board a plane with a design flaw or manufacturing/maintenance flaw at some point in their lifetime. This doesn't mean they're going to notice it, or even have any effect on the flight, much less cause an emergency by forgetting a powered-up iPhone in their carryon. But the likelihood of failure will never be zero unless the passenger obeys the rules and turns off their devices.

    So, turn your shit off when so instructed.

    And consumer electronics designers: please give the consumer a switch that allows them to turn their shit off... not standby, but OFF.

  • Re:...really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cytotoxic (245301) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @02:34PM (#36391748)

    We do this test every day. On any aircraft of reasonable size, there are at least a dozen cell phones not in the off position during takeoff and landing. Probably more. Most of these jets carry a hundred or more people. Nearly 100% of people carry some sort of electronic devise. Anyone here work in IT? Care to guess how many of your normal users will follow instructions? Does anyone seriously believe they get much north of 90% compliance with the "all electronics must be in the off position" request under the best circumstances? How many rings, pings, and update sounds do you hear on final approach when you come in low enough for the cell signal to connect? I hear so many I don't even notice anymore.

    If this were a truly serious problem, we'd have planes dropping out of the sky like rain. I couldn't say that there isn't a potential for a problem. I can say that the risk must be very, very small.

  • Re:...really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chris Snook (872473) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @03:11PM (#36392290)

    An aircraft body is basically a faraday cage. Internal sources of radiation are many orders of magnitude more disruptive for their power level.

  • Re:...really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by uniquename72 (1169497) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @03:19PM (#36392404)

    If this were a truly serious problem, we'd have planes dropping out of the sky like rain.

    That's like saying "seatbelts are totally unnecessary because I have been driving for 20 years without one and haven't been injured yet".

    No, it's like saying, "seatbelts are unnecessary because no one has EVER demonstrably been hurt by not using them." Hundreds of millions of people fly every year, a substantial percentage of them use electronics and don't bother to turn them off (in my experience), and it's still the safest form of transportation -- without a single confirmed death due to electronic use.

    I'm not saying that the ban is good or bad, only that your analogy sucked.

  • by hypergreatthing (254983) on Thursday June 09, 2011 @03:51PM (#36392804)

    yes, lets bring in unreasonable fear into the discussion. If you're that afraid of flying then i hope you don't drive, don't live where there's lightning, don't expose yourself to sunlight, don't eat yellow m&ms, etc.

    This is just a way to scapegoat known negligence. Engine part #3401 is known for breaking and there was a redesign, but it would of cost X dollars to replace. Might as well blame it on a cellphone causing the crash, no one will ever know the difference.

To err is human -- to blame it on a computer is even more so.

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