FAA to lift mobile shut-down rule

FAA to lift mobile shut-down rule

Summary: The unpopular requirement that passengers shut electronics down during take-off and landing will soon be lifted, as long as communications capabilities are disabled.

TOPICS: Mobility

An advisory panel in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will soon recommend relaxation of most of the restrictions on the use of mobile electronics during take-off and landing, according to a report in the New York Times.

The advisory panel is meeting this week. The policy recommendation should come by the end of the month and go into effect next year.

The panel will recommend allowing the use of devices with the exception of radio communications, such as Wifi, text messaging and cellular data or telephony. In other words, a phone in "Airplane Mode" should be acceptable, where under the current rule passengers were required to shut such devices down until told otherwise.

The rule has been a source of friction between passengers and crews, most famously when actor  Alec Baldwin was kicked off a United flight for refusing to stop playing Words with Friends. The rule is also widely flouted.

The Times says that interference with navigational equipment from mobile devices has been reported hundreds of times, but is anecdotal and no conclusive link has been established.  The article states unreservedly that mobile voice communications do interfere with communications.




Topic: Mobility

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Final authority should rest with the Captain...

    if he can't communicate with the Tower, he should broadcast the announcement that the plane won't take off until all devices have been turned off and he confirms the problem has been resolved. If the devices are the source of the problem, they will continue after taxiing. If some other sources is the problem, it will often be resolved during taxiing the plane to the runway.
    • Ass-u-me

      Plenty of women captains out there. Let's not be hasty in using one pronoun.

      And, you are right. Let the captain decide. Common sense decision making in the hands of the person responsible.
      • Pronoun feminist police?

        LOL. Wow did you just unnecessarily pull the sex card? What are you the pronoun feminist police?
        Danny Fitzgerald
      • Re: Ass-u-me

        Really? I mean you're seriously doing this? I think your subject line applies more appropriately to your post than to jkohut's post....smh
    • Final authority should rest with the Captain...

      jkohut: A pilot or co-pilot may need to communicate *urgently* with the tower and there may not be time to ask passengers to turn devices off. Nobody wants to be injured or die because some clown can't stop playing a game.
      • Lives vs. devices

        Makes sense. I'd rather risk losing one or more devices from a too-fast/hard shutdown, than one or more person's lives, the plane, etc.
        Teri W.
    • Your assumptions are incorrect

      Interference is nonsense. It is about having the attention of the passengers at critical times (take off and landings). Pilots have navigational charts on Ipads in the cockpits! They commonly make personal cellphone calls from there also. Cell phone usage in the passenger area is just annoying though. That's the real problem. Someone listening to their mp3 player would not affect navigation.
  • Before you get too enthused about this

    You should really watch "Fate Is the Hunter". Bad assumptions about how things work can lead to disaster in aviation.
    • Ok this is hilarious...

      Listen up sheeple. It's time for a logic intervention. Cell phone interference with modern avionics is a myth. Here's why:

      Cell towers broadcast extremely strong cellular communications signals 25 or more miles in every direction. Commercial airliners generally fly 6-8 miles above the Earth's surface. Given the many hundreds of thousands of cell towers spread all over the world, this means at any point in time the airliner is likely flying through 3 or 4 high powered cell tower signals which are drastically higher output than any cell phone and operating on the same frequencies. Yet, for some reason, everyone thinks the much weaker signal emanating from a passenger's cell phone will somehow cause the jet to crash. If that were true, planes would be dropping out of the sky like flies, particularly over major metropolitan areas with vast concentrations of cell towers.

      Even the RF emissions from the jet engines are far higher output than a cell phone. Then, add in the additional radiation flooding down from space because of the high altitude. These sources of emissions are so high that there is concern over flight personnel developing cancer from spending too much time in jets. Do these emissions cause plane crashes, too? I think not.

      The bottom line is: relax people. Allowing devices to remain on isn't going to cause you to crash. Even if the devices had their transmitters turned on, it wouldn't have any effect. They never needed these rules. They were initiated just to quell paranoia in the uneducated.
      • Maybe

        Bill, you neglect the influence of the inverse square law of radio communications. Look it up if you don't know what it means.
        • You might not realize airplanes also are exposed to more radiation

          Just from being high up in the sky. The biggest concern of a pilot is actually what is called a single neutron event, which is caused by cosmic rays bombarding the atmosphere, and the rate of events is much higher at altitude than on the ground.

          Basically a neutron blasts through one the dozens of computers on board and causes a bit to switch.

          The planes get plenty of electrical interference on board as well just from the fluorescent lights. The whole thing is bogus. Almost no-one turns off the phones any more, just put them in their pockets, and US air travel is safer than ever. The 3 fatalities in San Francisco a few months back were the first deaths in the US in over 10 years and I doubt the pilots crashed the plane because of someone's cell phone.
          • Who doesn't turn off phones?

            "Almost no-one turns off the phones any more, just put them in their pockets" Really? What airlines do you fly on? Please tell me so I can avoid their selfish passengers and sloppy crew.
          • Better not fly, mate!

            I'm a traveling consultant and most people simply put the phone in airplane mode (more because of battery drain from constantly trying to connect than anything else) and slip it into their pocket. Flight crews are certainly not lazy... there's just no way to tell if someone has their phone powered off or not unless they are actively using it. When someone is actively using it, they do always tell them to shut it down.

            I frequently fly Delta, US Airways, and United... it's the same on each one.
      • Are you sure about that??

        Why does my weak cell phone make my car stereo and computer speaker make that funky sound when ever my phone is on a call but the high powered cell site that is 500 feet from my house does not make the same sound.
        It is all about how close the transmitter is to the antennas and wiring in the plane. Is your text message or phone call during take off and landing really more important than all the lives in the plane? Turn the phone off and relax.
        • Because you have an unshielded antenna

          And probably faulty wiring in your jalopy. I certainly don't hear anything on AM or FM in my car.

          And besides you are in a Faraday cage in the airplane, signals have a hard time getting out, so the antenna the plane uses are probably safe - they also work on different frequencies.
          • Unshielded antenna?

            If it was shielded it would not work, no. That is sort of the idea of an antennas is to radiate. I know why the phone makes noise in the computer speakers and so do the plane manufacturers. I am trying to make a real world example that most people can understand. Also, since the plane is somewhat shielded the phone has to increase its power to connect to a cell site making the problem worse.
          • apples to oranges comparison

            Jay you're 100 percent wrong trying to compare a car to a commercial aircraft which is EMI HARDENED to the level of withstanding Direct lightning strikes is just ridiculous..

            Heck you don't have to be an electronics engineer to see the flaw in your analogy any ham radio operator, could tell you that cell phones pose no threat whatsoever to RF communications, navigation and computer systems.

            The effective radiated output of a cell phone is barely one tenth of watt .. let's put it this way cell phones are nothing more than full duplex transceivers. if RFI radiated by a cell phones is so destructive to navigation systems then why don't cell phones interfere with their own internal GPS receivers?

            you do realize the signals from the GPS satellites are very very very low power signals yet your cell phone doesn't interfere with the GPSs ability to receive those very weak signals...
        • Simple

          You are sat less than a metre from the dash which is full of copper wires (ariels) whereas a plane is basically a 50+ metre log aluminium tube filled with all kinds of devices that emit massive amounts of RF traffic. This simple physical limitation is the reason that your building pass or NFC device only works when it is a few centimetres from the receiver, and from across the street.
        • It's called feedback.

          Place a microphone close to a speaker and the waves clash causing abnormal noise or feedback. Call a radio station and once connected, same principle. But to compare avionics to the close proximity of a microphone to speakers is like comparing apples to oranges. There many people from virtually every flight that left their phones on in their pockets and the sky did not fall.
          Cory Ducey
      • Not so hillarious

        BillDem, your argument is far from correct. The tower signals are much farther from the airplane's electronics than the passenger's cell phone (the power is one over the distance squared - do the math). Also the antennas on those towers radiate the signal as much towards the horizontal or downward as they can, decreasing that signal strength even more. Although the towers broadcast a relatively high aggregate power, it is spread across many frequencies, so the signal at any frequency is not much stronger than any one phone. Finally, the towers have much higher quality circuits than can be put into a cell phone, which reduces the likelihood that they will be radiating spurious signals on aviation frequencies.

        As for emissions from the jet engines? Huh? RF emissions? From what source? Get serious!

        The potential cancer causing emissions are not RF - they are high energy radiation from cosmic rays.

        The rules were put in place because of the potential of passengers' transmitters to cause real interference. That potential was real, and in commercial aviation, the margin for error is way, way less than almost any other area civilians deal with.

        If you had ever dealt with spurious emissions from transmitters, or with receiver problems caused by out-of-band legitimate signals (usually due to IM in the receiver or even in metal objects in the vicinity), you'd understand this.