Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Because We (the FAA) Said So...

You may have long suspected that there is no genuine technical reason that electronic devices need to be stowed during takeoff and landing on a commercial airline flight.

Most of us in fact have been aware of this for so long that the jokes about it have become as tired and shopworn as the old airline food jokes. Alec Baldwin brought the joke back for one last round with his Saturday Night Live appearance.

But the truth of the matter is much as you've suspected. Independent testing demonstrates that the actual risk of interference with aircraft systems by a Kindle or a non-transmitting handheld device is not significant.

A curious technology writer, Nick Bilton, had this to say on the matter.
“The power coming off a Kindle is completely minuscule and can’t do anything to interfere with a plane,” said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs, after going over the results of the test. “It’s so low that it just isn’t sending out any real interference.” 
So the most likely case seems to be that the FAA has not altered regulations it enacted many years ago when devices were different and when accurate and comprehensive test results may not have been available. 
I've always accepted that the regulation existed to force passengers to be more alert and ready to take emergency action during the most critical portions of the flight. The FAA does not support this claim and cannot explain why the rule exists.
What can you do about that?