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The Myth Behind the No Electronics Airline Policy

Aviation analyst: 'zero evidence' of interference


Many are familiar with the takeoff drill when on airplanes: bags stowed, seat belts fastened and all electronics turned off. But the decades-old airline policy of prohibiting passengers from using any devices with an on-off switch out of fear of interference might be unfounded, according to a news report.

There has never been a study that said there is conclusive evidence electronics interfere with avionics, John Nance, a pilot and ABC News aviation analyst, told Time magazine.

"[Airlines] wrote the scripts that phones can interfere with the systems of the aircraft," Nance said. "But there is zero evidence."

The Dec. 15 Time report continued: "The evidence to support such interference seems to be, at best, anecdotal. ... Flight crews have merely been taught to instruct passengers based on an err-on-the-side-of-caution policy."

It is not to say there haven't been any studies regarding the use of electronics while in flight.

A report by the International Air Transport Association found 75 instances between 2003 and 2009 in which electronic interference was cited as the cause of some kind of airplane performance hiccup. The IATA report stressed, however, that no direct correlation was found between electronic interference from personal gadgets and plane function.

There also seems to be a discrepancy in enforcing the no-electronics policy.

The New York Times reported on Dec. 14 that the Federal Aviation Administration would allow American Airlines pilots to use iPads instead of paper flight manuals in the cockpit beginning Dec. 16.

"The rule, barring passengers from using a Kindle, an iPad or even a calculator were originally made to protect the electronics of an aircraft from interference," stated the NYT article. "Yet pilots with iPads will be enclosed in the cockpit just a few inches from critical aviation equipment."

Gadgets--especially the iPad--were found to be problematic when engineers in Seattle showed the Apple product, including other electronics, exceeded what Boeing considers the acceptable limit for aircraft equipment.

So why are pilots allowed to use iPads in the cockpit but passengers can't in the cabin? The cockpit is limited to a two-maximum gadget rule which is "significantly different" from the cabin, the FAA said.

"This involves a significantly different scenario for potential interference than unlimited passenger use, which could involve dozens or even hundreds of devices at the same time," the FAA said in the statement to the Times.