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February 21, 2024

Airlines may allow use of mobile devices during lift-off

By SEAN YAMAKAWA | October 3, 2013

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you kept your electronic device on during takeoff or landing? It’s a hassle to have to turn our electronic devices off, but pilots and flight attendants are adamant about reducing electronic device activity during take off. With our increased dependence and closeness to MP3 players, texting, web surfing, and a myriad of other functionalities in mobile devices, these airline policies are wearing passengers’ patience thin.

The strict enforcement of this policy begs a common question: is it that important that we turn off all personal electronic devices (PEDs) during takeoff and landing?

Actually, the simple answer is yes. Even though planes do not crash when a few passengers do not follow the rules, using a PED onboard an aircraft has been documented to interfere with the plane’s electronic equipment. In particular, PEDs cause the highest interference during takeoff and landing.

After years of pressure by flight passengers who crave to use their devices during the long, uneventful takeoff, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  have finally decided to consider lifting their ban.

“It’s about time,” Vaisak Nair, a senior at Hopkins, said.

“I’m the type that can’t sleep during takeoff, so unless there’s someone really interesting sitting next to me, I’m usually very bored for about half an hour. A lot can be done in a half hour, like games, music, and movies. I think that as long as your wifi is turned off, mobile devices should be able to be used,” Nair said.

The first study on in-flight use of PEDs was conducted in 1961 by the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), an American nonprofit organization that develops guidelines for applications of technological devices and ensuring the safety of aircrafts. Along with the FCC and the FAA, the RTCA is one of the three major players in determining flight safety policy and protocols.

The 1961 study, followed up by subsequent studies throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, indicated and confirmed again and again that PEDs interfere with onboard electronic equipment, even though the risk is low. Therefore, the Federal Communication Commission banned the use of PEDs during flight in 1991. After further research, the FCC still remains firm on its ban.

In 2004, NASA found that cell phones were particularly hazardous to use in flight. The institution found that some GPS receivers used in cell phones could cause aircrafts to lose satellite lock during landing. Further investigation found that a phone’s radio frequency emission affects the performance of aircrafts’ GPS receivers.

However, among the booming use of portable electronic devices, both the FCC and FAA have decided to reinvestigate the use of PEDs during takeoff and landing. In fact, a 28-member committee established by the FAA has already agreed that most electronic devices should be permitted for use. Of course, any wireless device would still be prohibited. Even Amazon, eager to put Kindle e-readers and tablets in more consumers’ hands, has conducted its own experiments by testing aircrafts filled with Kindles.

Granted, Amazon is not the primary source to confirm airline safety, but all signs suggest that we may be able to finally play some Angry Birds during takeoff after all.


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