Why Gadgets Will Soon Be Allowed Throughout Your Flight

Why Gadgets Will Soon Be Allowed Throughout Your Flight

Earlier this year, the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) put together a panel of aviation experts to look at whether personal electronic devices (PEDs) could be used on planes without compromising safety. The results are in: the committee is recommending that electronic devices — such as tablets, e-readers and other PEDs — be allowed during all phases of flight (including take-off and landing).

Flying picture from Shutterstock

The FAA asked the Advisory and Rulemaking Committee to investigate this particular issue after growing public scepticism about limitations, and increased public pressure to allow passengers to use their electronic devices during all phases of flight.

When applicable, passengers will have to switch their devices to airplane/flight mode. Passengers will hence be allowed to listen to music, watch a movie, play games or read an e-book on their e-reader or tablet — as long as the data was downloaded and saved on the device before take-off.

As the committee’s report points out, many new generation aircraft have the appropriate shielding to prevent any interference from PEDs that may be on board.

The FAA is widely expected to follow through with the committee’s recommendations and will likely begin implementation next year. Other regulatory agencies, such as Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), are expected to follow FAA’s lead on the issue.

No talking on mobile phones

The committee is maintaining restrictions on devices capable of connecting to a mobile phone network and/or with data communication capability. Hence, mobile phones are not expected to be allowed to be used during take-offs and landings any time soon. They will be required to be put on “flight mode”.

A mobile phone searching for a network tower emits much higher energy radio waves and is therefore more likely to cause electromagnetic interference (EMI). Another concern is that a plane flying with several hundreds of phones attempting to connect to a nearby tower would cause unnecessary strain on the mobile phone network.

However, some airlines are already offering products that allows their passengers to make phone calls on their flight. Emirates has been pushing for this technology for several years. It relies on pio-cell technology which is basically an on-board antenna which relays calls to towers on the ground. The system is controlled by the flight crew.

What’s taken so long?

Pressure on the FAA sharply increased over the past few years as electronic device use skyrocketed and airline passengers became increasingly dependent on them.

As Brazilian illustrator Felipe Luchi so perfectly illustrated in his artwork, we are becoming increasingly dependent on our mobile devices.

The decision to allow the use of electronic devices on planes may seem self-evident to some, but the committee was rigorous. The committee was set to release its recommendation months ago but asked for an extension as there was a large amount of data to review and evaluate.

Public perception that a small device like a mobile phone could not possibly interfere with a plane’s electronics is at the core of the issue — as shown by the parody below.

A recently conducted survey showed that 30 per cent of passengers admitted to not turning off their mobile phone when flying — but how many of them are actual aviation safety experts? Does knowing how to use an iPhone give someone the expertise to assess whether it can take interfere with a plane’s electronics?

Evidence-based policy is — as the term suggests — based on evidence. As is usually the case with research, it is extremely difficult to come up with a black-and-white answer. Research outcomes are made up of shades of grey: assessing likelihood, risk and so on.

As pointed out in a previous piece for The Conversation, interference allegedly due to phone calls during flight has been reported — but the lift of the ban on electronic devices such as e-readers and tablets is certainly most welcome.

Hamza Bendemra is a doctoral candidate in engineering at Australian National University. He does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The ConversationThis article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • “A recently conducted survey showed that 30 per cent of passengers admitted to not turning off their mobile phone when flying”

    So this gives us an indication of how massively selfish and stupid people are.

    • They’re simply being logical. It’s entirely obvious that if phone signals posed any genuine risk they could and would be confiscated at baggage inspection.

    • Exactly. I don’t care if you believe the rules are stupid or not, just follow them for the sake of everybody’s sanity.

      The above video just pisses me off. I know it’s supposed to be funny but it’s a prime example of the idea that people think it’s ok to give shit to customer-facing staff. It’s pretty clear that they don’t make the rules, it’s just their job to enforce them. They’re not wireless communication experts, they’re cabin crew. If you have a problem with the rules, they can’t change them. Just have some respect for everybody around you and don’t act like a jerk.

      In regards to the changing of the rules, I kind of feel that it would be better to allow full use or none at all. Other than making a call, how are the cabin crew supposed to know if your device is in flight mode? But yet I imagine it will be their job to somehow check. This half-way rule will just make things more difficult for all concerned.

      • Good point.

        The burden will likely fall onto the already over worked flight attendants that will have another opportunity to step into an argument with a disrespectful customer.

        Totally agree with you, by the way, about “people think it’s ok to give shit to customer-facing staff.”. I deal with customers (in a manner of speaking) and the percentage that are disrespectful in one manner or another is absurd. It’s beyond being manageable nowadays.

    • No davedrastic, it shows we were right all along.
      Some of us are intelligent enough to think logically about things. We don’t just blindly follow instructions. We like to ask why, look for reasons and understanding.
      Its funny how we get mocked by the uneducated sheeple who just say “duuh, ok.”

      • Why? …

        Because 100% (or close to that) or global airlines demand it.

        Look for reasons…

        Because having the plane suffer interference resulting in changes to the flight controls could be a bit of a problem.


        That peoples lives are at stake.

      • This is a very selfish and scary line of thinking.

        You are willing to risk your life and everyone else’s because you can’t stop playing candy crush for 20 minutes? How logical is that? Just how were you “educated” that your electronic devices do not cause any sort of interference? It definitely wasn’t through any proper study.

        If no scientist is brave enough to stake their reputation on saying that there is absolutely no chance of inteference, who are you to say otherwise?

        • As oppose to being berated all the time for bring right by people who are wrong and uneducated?

          • Other people are not responsible for you being an arsehole. You wouldn’t get berated if you didn’t act like one.

          • Ok, so in the past with previous stories about electronics on aircraft Ive given opinions based on facts, science, education and experience and have been insulted and ridiculed for it.
            But now, because it turns out Im right, you call me an arsehole?
            So whats to be said of those who are wrong but feel its ok to insult others?
            I think its funny actually. Theyre wrong, but instead of admitting theyre wrong they just call those who are right arseholes.

          • Firstly, you haven’t proven anything you’ve said with any kind of scientific evidence.

            Secondly, I don’t really care what other people have said to you in the past, it has nothing to do with this conversation.

            Finally, being an arsehole and being right are independent of each other. You can choose not to be an arsehole even though you’re right, however you choose to be one. If you choose to act like that, then other people will call you out. It’s a simple equation.

            Even if you’re right about the point at hand, you’re wrong in thinking that means you can act like an arsehole with impunity. That’s what five-year-olds think.

  • Will the flight crew walk down the plane with an EM detector to check and make sure all devices are in flight mode.

  • The problem its not the passengers playing with their gadget, the problem when the pilot playing around theirs gadget while piloting the plane

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