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  #1  
Old 15 June 2009, 01:21 AM
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Cell Phone Cellphones and airplanes: Why we should hang up

Question: Iím noticing an increasing number of people who donít turn off cellphones in flight. What exactly are the safety concerns? Perhaps if people knew more about what could happen, they would obey.

http://travel.latimes.com/daily-deal...nd-airpl-4634/
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Old 15 June 2009, 02:46 AM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Hmm, from the cite there are no documented safety issues. Apparently, nobody really knows if cell phones interfere or not with aircraft electronics. Given that people probably do ocassionaly use cell phones on flights, even if it is banned and/or illegal, and given that there doesn't appear to be planes falling out of the sky becuase of that improper use, it seems pretty unlikely that cell phones interfere with flight electronics.

Last edited by snopes; 15 June 2009 at 02:53 AM. Reason: Removed pointless reproduction of entire OP
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  #3  
Old 15 June 2009, 02:28 PM
purpleiguana purpleiguana is offline
 
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I know that Mythbusters did something about cell phones and planes. Granted, the plane they used was a puddle-jumper, not a 747 or anything, but I'm pretty sure that the results they got leaned toward the "not a danger" side of things.
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Old 15 June 2009, 02:41 PM
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Mythbusters also covered the hospital one as well: both were plausible that if you had a really strong phone line, the potential was there to mess with things (a minor one), but Adam and Jamie both decided that it was more likely that cell phone use in a plane/hospital was about nuisance not interference.

IIRC, they did two episodes on the plane one and both concluded that if every single person on that plane were to dial out at the exact same moment, using the same airwaves/lines/etc.. that the pilots used, the potential for harm was still minimal to the plane---as in it might make a button flash or something twirl, but that's it. It won't cause the plane to crash.

Same with cell phones at gas pumps (not true), hospitals (barely plausible), and other things that are supposedly affected by the phone use. It's more of a nuisence than problem.
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Old 15 June 2009, 04:26 PM
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one thing it can do...

My cell phone, (Rogers) interferes with speakers, if you have speakers on nearby you will hear a tic tic tic grrrrr when the phone is about to ring and when it is ringing. It may be possible for it to interfere with the headsets in the cockpit, although the phone does need to be really close...
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Old 15 June 2009, 04:32 PM
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Originally Posted by FullMetal View Post
one thing it can do...

My cell phone, (Rogers) interferes with speakers, if you have speakers on nearby you will hear a tic tic tic grrrrr when the phone is about to ring and when it is ringing. It may be possible for it to interfere with the headsets in the cockpit, although the phone does need to be really close...
I was just coming back to say something similar. My cell sits next to my monitor and whenever it is searching for a signal, I'll hear that static through my speakers. But like you said, it has to be close--in this case, mine are less than 6 inches apart.
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Old 15 June 2009, 05:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FullMetal View Post
one thing it can do...

My cell phone, (Rogers) interferes with speakers, if you have speakers on nearby you will hear a tic tic tic grrrrr when the phone is about to ring and when it is ringing. It may be possible for it to interfere with the headsets in the cockpit, although the phone does need to be really close...
I was going to say that as well. I seem to recall a pilot posting on an aviation message board I read that yes, they do get that sound in their headsets sometimes when someone forgets to turn off their cell phone.
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Old 15 June 2009, 06:38 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jimmy101_again View Post
Hmm, from the cite there are no documented safety issues. Apparently, nobody really knows if cell phones interfere or not with aircraft electronics.
Isn't that the point though? If apparently nobody really knows, it might be in g-your best interests when travelling in a metal tube at 40,000 feet and close to the speed of sound to not experiment and risk bing the first person to prove the theory by causing said metal tube to descend suddenly to 0 feet at probably well over the speed of sound.

I agree it requires more research (preferably ground based) and by someone a bit more authoritative and meticulous then "The Mythbusters" - they are hugely entertaining, and I love what they do, but I wouldn't trust my life to any of their findings.

Until we know for sure, why chance it? There is no pressing need to make a phone call from an aircraft geez I've never loved anyone enough that I can't bear to be out of contact with them for the duration of a flight which they will know full well I'm taking. Business contacts - they can suck it up until I land. Ongoing family crisis - if I knew about it and still decided to jet off somwhere, then I obviously don't care that much. Sudden and unexpected emergency - yeah well shit happens and there isn't much I can do anyway from the stratosphere.

That's assuming you can even get a signal, since at cruising altitude you are at a height that's on the outer fringe of a cell tower's range - which I believe means that te phone will up it's signal output strength to maximum to compensate.

I seem to have read somewhere that some aircraft on some European airlines have been fitted with onboard cellphone repeaters, so that those who simply cannot abide the thought of being out of touch with the outside world for a few brief hours can make calls (at a handsome price), but I'm assuming extra shielding has been made to the avionics.

Switch the bastard off, relax. Enjoy your coffee, your complementary blanket, and that unidentifiable 'what the hell is that supposed to be' you are expected to eat, and in the vast majority of cases, barring a horrible tragedy, that person you wanted so desperately to call when you were zooming over The Bay of Biscay will still be there to take your call when you get to the other end.

Last edited by Eddylizard; 15 June 2009 at 06:43 PM.
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  #9  
Old 15 June 2009, 08:57 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Originally Posted by Eddylizard View Post
Isn't that the point though? If apparently nobody really knows, it might be in g-your best interests when travelling in a metal tube at 40,000 feet and close to the speed of sound to not experiment and risk bing the first person to prove the theory by causing said metal tube to descend suddenly to 0 feet at probably well over the speed of sound.
Very true.

But, given that people regularly do use cell phones on planes, and given that planes are not falling out of the sky because of that use, I think you have to say that the risk is at worst minimal and may well be zero.

Oh, and I second the idea that somebody other than "Myth Busters" is probably needed to give a definitive answer.
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Old 15 June 2009, 09:11 PM
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Originally Posted by jimmy101_again View Post
But, given that people regularly do use cell phones on planes, and given that planes are not falling out of the sky because of that use, I think you have to say that the risk is at worst minimal and may well be zero.
Problems can arise that don't result in "falling out of the sky." There could easily be minimal-risk situations they don't want to have happen.
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Old 15 June 2009, 09:56 PM
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The FCC bans the use of cellular phones in flight because at cruise altitude the cellphones have substantially increased line-of-sight and thus occupy many more cells than they would if they were closer to the ground. This may increase network load and interfere with other calls. Whether or not this is a serious problem has not been seriously investigated because the FAA bans cellular phones in flight anyway.

The FAA bans the use of cellular phones in flight because all transmitting devices are assumed to have some potential to interfere with flight components unless they're specifically designed for use in aircraft. Whether or not this is a serious problem has not been seriously investigated because the FCC bans cellular phones in flight anyway.
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  #12  
Old 15 June 2009, 10:12 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Originally Posted by lord_feldon View Post
Problems can arise that don't result in "falling out of the sky." There could easily be minimal-risk situations they don't want to have happen.
But it still comes back to people do use cell phones on flights. If there is a problem, even a minor one, then there would be some data to that affect.

The FAA's point of view appears to be that they don't know and can't be bothered with trying to find out if there is a problem. Which I think is a huge mistake. If there is a problem with something that has become as ubiquitous as the cell phone, then the FAA should know about it. Lets not wait for a big accident before the issue is investigated. Lets not just ban them because only an idiot would think that will be effective (assuming there is a problem).
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  #13  
Old 15 September 2010, 02:24 AM
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As a former pilot I can tell you it is a touchy topic for the airline industry and one they do not wish a debate about.

Remember the still unexplained crash of that Egyptair Boieng 767 into the Atlantic off Long Island?

Remember the British Airways Boeing 777 which lost power approaching Heathrow?

How about the Turkish Airlines Boieng 737-800 which lost engine power approaching Schipol?

All these never properly explained and never fully discounted that there may have been a rogue radio signal to their flight computers.

As a former airline baggage handler too I can also add that in most airport baggage sorting halls bags waiting to go into aircraft are often ringing and airlines do nothing about this. People put phones in their luggage and forget to turne them off.
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  #14  
Old 20 January 2011, 12:40 AM
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Airplane Interfering with Flight?

Passengers are taking an increasing array of devices on board planes ó cellphones, tablets, GPS units and more. Many of these devices transmit a signal, and all of them emit electromagnetic waves, which, in theory, could interfere with the planeís electronics. At the same time, older planes might not have the best shielding against the latest generation of devices, some engineers said.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/bu...18devices.html
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Old 20 January 2011, 01:21 AM
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Those who say it happens now, and "planes are not falling from the sky" are failing to account for the risk vs. probability equation. There may be a very small probability of the interference happening to a critical system, but if it does happen, the result could be catastrophic.

If that's the case, then, in 99,999 cases out of 100,000, at worst a light on the instrument panel flickers, or the pilot hears a ticking sound in her headset. But, the other 1 time, it interferes with a critical system, or causes the pilot to mis-hear an instruction, and a plane falls out of the sky.

Saying "it hasn't happened yet" is never proof that something is actually safe. (This was a big focus of Richard Feynman's critique of NASA's safety protocols before the Challenger disaster--when asked to give the expected service time for various components, the time given was basically, "well, how long have they been in use?" No thought was give to whether something might actually be statistically overdue for failure.)

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  #16  
Old 20 January 2011, 02:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erwins View Post
If that's the case, then, in 99,999 cases out of 100,000, at worst a light on the instrument panel flickers, or the pilot hears a ticking sound in her headset. But, the other 1 time, it interferes with a critical system, or causes the pilot to mis-hear an instruction, and a plane falls out of the sky.
What you are missing is that many (if not most) of these systems are redundant. It interferes with a critical system? There's a backup. It causes a pilot to mishear an instruction? There's a Co-Pilot.
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Old 20 January 2011, 07:32 AM
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What you are missing is that many (if not most) of these systems are redundant. It interferes with a critical system? There's a backup. It causes a pilot to mishear an instruction? There's a Co-Pilot.
Those are different arguments from the one I was criticizing. Saying there's a back-up for critical systems is different from saying "that it hasn't happened yet is proof that it won't ever happen."

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Old 20 January 2011, 08:14 AM
UrbanLegends101 UrbanLegends101 is offline
 
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What you are missing is that many (if not most) of these systems are redundant. It interferes with a critical system? There's a backup. It causes a pilot to mishear an instruction? There's a Co-Pilot.
That doesn't always work either. I was listening to the in-flight audio on a flight summer 2010, and one of the US ATC controllers requested our flight to change course to the right (or left, I can't remember). I noted on the inflight mapping the aircraft changed course the opposite direction. ATC questioned it, and the flight deck crew said ATC told them to change course in that direction. The controller, with a little amazement in his voice, said deviation of course in that direction was OK. Problem was, I heard the controller's original course change and apparently neither of the flight crew heard it properly.

About 25 years back, a friend of mine and I were flying up around the Philadelphia area and ATC gave us a course change off a VOR. We set up another radial off that VOR based on what the two of us "heard" and within a minute or so ATC called us and asked what course we were headed. We told him and he said he had told us another bearing, so we corrected course. This was in the days before ATC readbacks were required and now I know why it is considered standard procedures.
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Old 20 January 2011, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Wolf333 View Post
What you are missing is that many (if not most) of these systems are redundant. It interferes with a critical system? There's a backup. It causes a pilot to mishear an instruction? There's a Co-Pilot.
And you still have the human there, with a fair dose of common sense.

So, we have a very unlikely problem that has never happened, and one or two pilots who can apply their common sense to fix it. I see no reason to worry. There is a larger risk that the plane will crash because the pilots are distracted by a crying baby.
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Old 20 January 2011, 05:02 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erwins View Post
Saying "it hasn't happened yet" is never proof that something is actually safe. (This was a big focus of Richard Feynman's critique of NASA's safety protocols before the Challenger disaster--when asked to give the expected service time for various components, the time given was basically, "well, how long have they been in use?" No thought was give to whether something might actually be statistically overdue for failure.)
But Feynman and everyone else came to the conclusion the accident had nothing to do with the service time of the components. Data was available that clearly showed that a launch in near freezing temperatures was not only out-of-spec but also contraindicated by a huge pile of existing data. A serious problem was guaranteed.

As to the possibility of a cell phone (or laptop or...) interfering with the avionics... it could be argued that that is the avionics manufacturer's problem. The avionics must be tolerant of signals that are within FCC specifications. Since these devices are within FCC specs it wouldn't be the cell phone users fault, it would the avionics manufacturer.
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