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Turning on your smartphone while flying could have deadly consequences

Posted: , by Alan F.

Turning on your smartphone while flying could have deadly consequences
For those of you who secretly turn on their cell phone while on board a plane-and don't put it on Airplane mode-be aware that there is the chance of a deadly consequence to your action. From 2003 to 2009, the International Air Transport Association found 75 cases of interference having an affect on flight controls, engine indicator lights and other important gauges. Crew members believed each case stemmed from the use of portable electronic devices.

The IATA, representing more than 230 passenger and cargo airlines around the globe, broke down the incidences and reports that 26 affected flight controls like the autopilot, autothrust and the landing gear. 17 affected the navigation systems and 15 had to do with the communications system on board the plane. 40% of the problems were linked to the use of a cell phone.

In one case, the autopilot turned itself off at 4500 feet and warning lights came on. Flight attendants were immediately requested by the pilots to search for passengers using electronic devices and found 1 handset and 3 Apple iPods in use. An announcement was made over the PA and the plane landed safely. In another case, a clock started to spin backwards while the GPS had an incorrect reading (and no sign of a LightSquared LTE tower!). Another case saw the altitude readings changing quickly.

Boeing's Dave Carson is the co-chair of a federal advisory committee that investigated the problem and found that portable electronic devices can interfere with the plane's sensors hidden in the passenger area. Carson says that such interference can show the plane to be to the right of the runway when it really is to the left of the runway. And when asked if cellphones could really be that powerful, he said that it could be if it goes in the right place at the right time. Carson took an ABC News into one of Boeing's test chambers where tests showed that a BlackBerry handset and an Apple iPhone both created signals above an approved limit. The device that had the highest (and thus the most dangerous) reading was the Apple iPad.

On the other hand, former Air Force and Commercial Pilot John Nance says that considering that there are 32,000 flights a day over the U.S., there is not enough evidence to prove that portable electronics are at fault. Nance thinks there are other explanations for the problems. He says, "If an airplane is properly hardened, in terms of the sheathing of the electronics, there's no way interference can occur."In the meantime, Boeing engineers say older planes, not as well protected with the wiring, can have navigation and communication problems with interference from portable electronics. Next time you are on a plane with your handset or tablet, it probably is a good idea to play it safe and use the Airplane mode. After all, that is what the setting is there for.

source: ABCNews via AllThingsD

21 Comments
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posted on 11 Jun 2011, 18:46 5

1. cheetah2k (Posts: 806; Member since: 16 Jan 2011)


I've accidently left my phone in over head luggage turned on for entire 8-10hr flights many times and the plane hasn't crashed....

When are the airlines going to start blaming themselves for poor maintenance and upkeep on their planes, rather than putting the blame on mobile phones that are not turned off.

This myth has been busted a long time ago!

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 19:13 1

5. Rawrzellers (Posts: 224; Member since: 22 Aug 2010)


Loved how you totally disregarded the last paragraph of the article. Keep it classy.

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 20:07 1

10. america123jeff (Posts: 36; Member since: 14 Apr 2011)


yeah but how do we know that the planes that have crashed weren't caused by a cell phone. You won't know until it does crash.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 02:54 1

14. livingmild (Posts: 14; Member since: 24 Dec 2009)


One of the investigators said that the signal had to be in the right place at the right time. If you have a number of passengers using their phones simultaneously, this could greatly increase your chances that a signal can hit that area where systems can be affected.

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 18:59 1

2. TheBrizz (Posts: 18; Member since: 24 Sep 2010)


I follow the flight attendants' instructions, but I'm sorry; I'm still not buying this. A 100-ton aircraft that cost billions of dollars to develop and millions more to actually build, and it's gonna be affected by my cell phone?

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 20:08 1

11. america123jeff (Posts: 36; Member since: 14 Apr 2011)


yes it could be

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 19:06 6

3. Fanboys Suck (Posts: 609; Member since: 12 Dec 2008)


75 cases over a 6-7 years span? You know how many flights there are a day? You know how many people do not turn off their phones?

Not to sound negative, but who paid for this study? Only 40% of the cases were caused by cell phones... that is only 30 cases involving cell phones.

There are roughly 50,000 flights each day worldwide. That is 18,250,000 flights a year, and 109,500,000 flights over that 6 year span. That means 30 cases out of 109.5 Million gives a 0.00000027% chance that there may be some type of interference with some type of flight controls.

These articles should really break down the numbers better so people can understand how little chance there really is... You have a better chance getting stuck by lightening in your lifetime.

Just sayin'...

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 20:03 4

9. Faint (unregistered)


Because if even, one case happens once out of 109,500,000 flights, it doesn't matter. You realize that a 757 can cause the death of over 200 right? And you realize that could be YOU. Insignificant perhaps that it's a 0.00000027% chance that your device could be causing interference, is it really all that much for a person to turn off their phone upon request?

The sample size may be small, but if it's possible, why risk it at all?

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 23:23 2

13. ILikeBubbles (Posts: 302; Member since: 17 Jan 2011)


no it's not too much to ask i don't think but at the same time there's no real way to prove and doesn't something have to get past hypothesis AND theory to become a fact? and even then how many facts have we been disproving with updated technology every year? We can't make gum illegal just because 10 kids choke to death on it a year....

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 02:58

15. livingmild (Posts: 14; Member since: 24 Dec 2009)


I agree with you 100%.

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 19:09 8

4. Yo (unregistered)


It's a simple request. Just turn off your devices or put them in airplane mode during the flight. Are y'all that spoiled that you can't do that? It is possible for signals to interfere. Just because it doesn't happen 100% of the time doesn't mean it can't happen.

Some people like to find out the hard way...

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 19:18 3

7. luis_lopez_351 (Posts: 951; Member since: 18 Nov 2010)


SO a terrorist can forget about bombs and take out a Blackberry/Iphone?Android...ect?

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 19:43 7

8. bossmt_2 (Posts: 430; Member since: 13 Oct 2009)


Why would you not have it in airplane mode anyway? Saves your battery instead of having it search for signal all the time.

posted on 11 Jun 2011, 21:43 2

12. ArmageddonX (Posts: 96; Member since: 11 May 2011)


This study is ridiculous. This is simply 75 cases over 7 years of airplanes malfunctioning of their own accord and the airlines needing something to blame it on.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 08:29 3

16. hawk62 (Posts: 320; Member since: 21 Nov 2009)


Load of crap!

If cell phones could take down plans, dont you think the towel heads would just carry like 50 of them? Wouldnt it be easy to bring cell phones on the planes insted of bombs?

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 08:42 3

17. urdaddi (Posts: 18; Member since: 27 Jun 2010)


You are as much of a bigot as you are an idiot.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 10:38 3

18. anon123 (unregistered)


+1 good sir

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 12:03

20. InspectorGadget80 (Posts: 6408; Member since: 26 Mar 2011)


I remember last time I was on a plane. I saw a lady playing with her Iphone when the stewardess ask her nicely TO TURN OFF YOUR PHONE during plane lift off till the captain says u may now use her electronic device. and she was still using as we were taking off. just to show some people are addictive to their device. I always turn it off when they say then turn it off when it's safe to do so. Some people don't even care bout safety.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 13:41 1

21. DigitalBoy05 (Posts: 202; Member since: 04 Jun 2011)


This is really just a case of where people need to grow up and pick their battles. Flying is a privileage not a right and while we are in the airport / plane we need to do as instructed by any official. Just cause we are so full of our own arrogance torwards our portable devices doesnt mean we need to cause issues and "make a stand." Personally do I think our phones can cause issues? Probably not, however even a one in a million chance of death isnt really worth putting on the line to check a text message.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 14:11

22. YessiMa (unregistered)


I work for US Airways and passengers have no idea of all the crappy maintenance work they do just because the company is so cheap. Last week aircraft 444 outbound to HPN engines cut off before take off so they came back to the gate and put the passengers on another aircaft. Maintenance was done on 444 and given the okay to fight two hours later, this time to SYR. Again the aircraft's engines cut off before take off so back to the gate for aircraft 444. After an hour of maintenance work they said it's good to go. So as the aircraft was taxiing out of the gate area all of the aircraft's power went out and had to be towed back to the gate. These airline companies are playing russian roulette with passengers lives with their crappy patch work.

posted on 12 Jun 2011, 18:08

23. Phonatic (Posts: 27; Member since: 16 Jul 2010)


Just turn it off for the maybe 20 minutes they ask you not to use the device. If I suddenly plunge 10K feet cause some ass wants to get the high score in angry birds, I'll beat them until we hit the water.

Why take the risk? When did people become so selfish, self-concerned, and inconsiderate? What they need is an airline for people who are far too important to turn off their devices. Put them all on one plane and let them take the collective risk. Bon Voyage!

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