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parnel

Electronic discrimination in the skies

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http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blog/te ... -the-skies

If you’ve ever been on a plane, you’ve probably heard those announcements right before take-off and landing asking passengers to turn off all electronic devices. For kicks, I sometimes refuse to, just to hear what excuses flight staff come up with for why I should.

There’s the popular one, about how electronics with connection technologies – the likes of cellphones, laptops, iPads – can interfere with the plane’s navigational systems. If that were true, I don’t know why would-be terrorists would go through the trouble of smuggling in shoe bombs or explosives packed in liquid containers when all they would need to do to cause catastrophe is turn on their phone.

I looked into this a couple years back while I was at the National Post (alas, I can’t find the article online, otherwise I’d link to it) and found that the real reason cellphones can’t be used on planes is because, in the event that their signals are strong enough, they play havoc with networks on the ground. Because planes move so fast, phones can jump quickly from cell tower to cell tower, which can ultimately cause a big roaming mess. Cellphone carriers wouldn’t know how to bill their customers. That’s why the Federal Communications Commission bans use on planes, unless such connections run through special in-flight systems.

Nevertheless, the debate continues. ABC News had a recent report on a confidential airline industry report that questioned whether using phones on board really is safe but, as a former Air Force and commercial pilot put it, there really is no proof either way.

In any event, I’ve never actually tried to use a cellphone on a plane, and not because of the potential interference issue. Sitting next to someone on a bus while they chat away is annoying enough; having to do it on a plane would be intolerable. My mom raised me to have better manners than that.

But what happens when the particular gizmo you’re using doesn’t actually have any sort of wireless connection, or it’s turned off in airplane mode? Why, in that case, do the flight staff still want you to shut it down?

Such was the case Thursday night, when I was flying back in to Toronto from a PlayStation press event in New York. I was reading a book on my iPad when the flight attendant told me to turn it off. I ignored her and, when she returned and told me again, I asked her why. She whipped out another excuse I’ve heard before, which is that the device could fly out of my hands while landing and nail someone in the head.

True enough, but so could a book. Getting beaned with a hardcover copy of Sex, Bombs and Burgers hurts just as much (trust me, I tested it – and yes, that is a cheap plug).

Failing that, she tried another excuse – that the staff needed my full attention while landing in case of emergency. Again, fair enough – but, I asked, why weren’t the people reading books and magazines asked to put those away? Her answer made me chuckle: apparently, any flight attendant who didn’t ask passengers to stow their printed reading material was being negligent.

I finally put my iPad away, which made her happy, but then she did the unbelievable – she walked right by my friend, seated in the row ahead of me, and completely ignored the fact that he was reading a book. I asked if he had heard our exchange and he said, “Yup.” We shared a laugh.

But seriously – what’s with the double standard? This was far from an isolated incident. Airline staff always crack down on electronic devices, transmitting or not, but are fine with printed matter (including the airline’s own magazines stuffed into the seat pockets). The conspiracy-minded would say it’s because laptops, iPods and iPads are sucking away revenue from airlines’ pay-per-use entertainment systems, but I don’t believe it’s that simple.

That said, I can’t explain it as anything other than electronic discrimination. When will our gadgets finally get equal treatment? Can’t we all just get along?

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Typical asshole article and response to obeying the rules.

By the way, the rules are not made up by "Airline Staff" but by the regulatory authorities. The staff must enforce the rules or they are the ones that get the fine. The airlines are the ones that have fought to get permission to allow cellphones while deplaning or while taxiing or while sitting at the gate. All of those things were banned at one time by the bureaucrats too.

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Perhaps Parnel you should actual speak on something you have at least a bit of technical and regulatory knowledge.

The regulations require that during critical aircraft movements only certified avionics electronics may be on. At certain other times, consumer electronics may be on with transmitting/receiving functions off. For the airlines to do more requires them to PROVE to the authorities that those devices do NOT cause interference, which is not simply the absence of evidence showing that they have caused interference.

Sure F/A's make up all sorts of reasons, but the REAL reason is because the regulations require it.

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Perhaps Parnel you should actual speak on something you have at least a bit of technical and regulatory knowledge.

I never claimed an expertise in the matter just an opinion/viewpoint and you have done nothing to change that opinion/viewpoint. Pilots I have spoken with tell me its way overdone and that they know there are always people whose mobiles are on for entire flights either through neglect or laziness and they experience no issues. May I ask what your level of knowledge is?

The regulations require that during critical aircraft movements only certified avionics electronics may be on. At certain other times, consumer electronics may be on with transmitting/receiving functions off. For the airlines to do more requires them to PROVE to the authorities that those devices do NOT cause interference, which is not simply the absence of evidence showing that they have caused interference.

Sure F/A's make up all sorts of reasons, but the REAL reason is because the regulations require it

......................................................

The regulations require all sorts of things that are generally redundant but done because sometimes idiots do fly and they need to have the dummy down version of just about everything. I agree with the safety stuff but you know as well as I that some regs are way overdone. And, I know its the regulations that govern cell phone usage but I also know the airline industry doesn't really fight these regs very hard, ergo my opinion on the matter......and its just an opinion. Is that clear enough?

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The regulations require that during critical aircraft movements only certified avionics electronics may be on. At certain other times, consumer electronics may be on with transmitting/receiving functions off. For the airlines to do more requires them to PROVE to the authorities that those devices do NOT cause interference, which is not simply the absence of evidence showing that they have caused interference.

Sure F/A's make up all sorts of reasons, but the REAL reason is because the regulations require it.

I think the challenge is in how outdated these rules have become; outdated in the sense of how they fail to address the modern world of consumer electronics. Two examples:

1) what does "off" really mean? Surely we all understand that when someone puts away their iPad, even though the screen goes blank, the device does not really shut down. Hence asking someone to stop reading their eBook, but not asking them to rip out it's batteries is somewhat pointless.

2) what is an electronic device? An iPod? A watch? What if it's a tiny iPod warn as a watch?

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That's true. A lot of devices have sorta off modes, which are really standby. But, even then, they are generally going into a very low power mode of operation that also means very low level of potential EM/RFI but not zero. Smaller devices, less power, less potential interference - but an assessment that is getting fuzzier everyday.

And for Parnel, I'm a certified Applied Science Technologist with a speciality in Electronics / Telecommunications. I've dealt with the design and installation of some very sophisticated electronics systems on-board aircraft (non-flight related) and my colleagues and I have run across some very unusual interference problems at times. Yeh, we have to make sure our stuff not only works for its purposes but doesn't stop something else critical for flight from working correctly. We've got high-powered processors, displays of all sorts, real-time data downlinks, etc that all have to play nice with the aircraft flight systems. What keeps commercial aircraft safe, in my opinion, is not because all the consumer electronics isn't generating a lot of EM/RF noise but because avionics is so much more resistant to interference than you'd typically find in commercial, ground-based equipment of a similar nature. However, resistant doesn't mean 100% immune and I've read a case of a private pilot taking his regular portable boom-box with AM/FM radio and noticing interference with one of his aircraft radios. The cause was attributed to the local oscillator (LO) in the radio part of the boom-box radiating spurious signals at the same frequency range of the aircraft radio receiver. The presence of an LO in most products that have a radio receiver is why devices with radio receiving functions are also banned in the cabin.

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Those qualifications do give you some experience to talk about things intelligently on this subject.

However my point is still valid in that low power digital signals from cell phones are probably pretty damn safe.

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Those qualifications do give you some experience to talk about things intelligently on this subject.

However my point is still valid in that low power digital signals from cell phones are probably pretty damn safe.

"Probably" yes but under the current regulatory model and with the practical limitations on testing EVERY model of phone it would be an impossibility to certify them for use during critical aircraft operations. This is especially true as cell phone technology is continually evolving with different RF waveforms and modulation techniques that makes the suggestion of a definitive blanket permission to be granted for on-board cell use a difficult move. Then again, we have on-board WiFi, which in my mind is probably a far less controlled technology in terms of engineering quality than cell and it is allowed at cruise altitudes. However, WiFi is even lower power than cell particularly when a cell phone goes to max power when trying to connect to out-of-range towers as will happen on an aircraft.

I believe a study I read showed that the unintended spurious RF coming out of laptops (with WiFi OFF) could be of more concern than intended radiation from some low-power transmitting devices. Again, I think it is the robustness of avionics rather than the benign nature of consumer electronics that is key. With aircraft full of electronics, including radar and various radios, the stuff has to be immune to fairly significant potential RF/EM interference to begin with. The issue is that not as much attention was given in the many years old design of aircraft to the amount of RF/EM originating in the passenger cabin and how wiring though that area might be susceptible to conducting interference to systems located elsewhere on the plane.

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