Why you can’t use your phone in-flight

It takes something serious to bring down a commercial aircraft, such as pilot error, severe weather, or mechanical failure due to bird strikes. So, could something as simple as a smartphone be enough to interfere with the safety of your flight? It has been a rather contentious issue and for many years passengers have wondered why they are unable to use their electronic devices during take-off and landing. There is a good reason!

Better safe than sorry

Both the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the American FFA have adopted the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach for many years. They feel that while there may be no concrete evidence that electronic devices interfere with the safe operation of a plane, there’s also no solid proof that they don’t.

Electronic devices emit electromagnetic radiation which can potentially interfere with avionics. Even devices that don’t have internet connectivity, such as MP3 players, can emit low levels of electromagnetic radiation.

In 2001, a report by NASA compiled data on aircraft system anomalies attributed to personal electronic devices. The data was clear – not only did these events have a critical effect on the flight system, they also happened during critical stages of the flight, specifically take-off and landing.

In 2011, the US ABC Television Network uncovered a confidential report by the International Air Transport Association STEADS program which contained data from airlines all over the world. The data showed 75 events in 7 years where pilots and engineers attributed interference to the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices in-flight.

Aviation expert and New York Times columnist, Christine Negroni, also describes a number of cases where pilots reported electronic devices interfering with the flight systems of commercial flights – issues that disappeared as soon as the flight crew insisted the offending passengers switch off.

Get. Their. Attention

Airplane taking off

There are other aspects of safety that aren’t just about the flight systems used to operate the plane. The cabin crew also need passengers focused during critical stages of the flight, and take-off and landing are some of the most critical. Larger personal electronic devices are considered ‘flying objects’ and if not secured during these critical stages, could pose a potential danger to passengers and crew in the event that the plane is forced to make an emergency stop. Airline crew also prefer to minimise passenger distraction as they perform the in-flight safety demonstration.

Of course, as technology continues to advance, so too do the regulations that apply to flying. Whilst previously passengers were instructed to completely switch off their devices, the regulations have now been relaxed slightly. CASA and the America FFA have both updated their regulations to allow electronic devices under 1kg to be used during take-off and landing provided they’re in flight mode. Airlines have also begun to introduce in-flight Wi-Fi, to help passengers stay connected safely while in the sky.

While it may be that science can’t definitively prove that the use of electronic devices interferes with the safety of a flight, I think we can all agree that it’s not worth the risk. Take the opportunity to disconnect, sit back and relax and catch up on some sleep or your favourite TV show.

About the author

Glenn Checkley is the Managing Director of TravelOnline.com. Having worked in the travel industry for close to 15 years, he is an expert on the Australian travel industry and online travel markets.

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