Significant flight issues caused by mobile phone use, says report

During the taking off and landing process, flight attendants ask for everyone to turn their portable devices off.  Many people do not follow these requests, and the latest ABC report tells us why we should listen. Between the 2003 and 2009, there were some incidents on board a few flights where people left their phones or portable devices on while flying, which incidentally caused issues for the pilots. The report also says some problems could still occur even if your device has a flight mode setting and it’s activated during the trip.

Now, leaving your phone on during a flight is allowed on some planes, but otherwise if you live in the United States, you could be jailed and fined. The reason for such strict rules is because on a few occasions navigation systems were compromised: flight controls, autopilot, autothrust, landing gear, and electronic warnings were going off. Those were not just normal occurrences, and are just a few of the problems portable devices like phones and tablets that have Wi-Fi support could cause. On one occasion, a plane’s autopilot was unintentionally disengaged at 4,500 feet in the air. Pilots quickly requested the flight attendants to search the cabin for electronic devices, and they discovered that one phone and three iPods were in use. After the devices were finally powered down, the flight did not experience further issues.

Twenty-six of the incidents in the report affected the flight controls, including the autopilot, autothrust and landing gear. Seventeen affected navigation systems, while 15 affected communication systems. Thirteen of the incidents produced electronic warnings, including “engine indications.” The type of personal device most often suspected in the incidents were cell phones, linked to four out of ten.

Stories like this might make us follow the attendant’s request next time, and maybe turn our phones off. Of course this information was gathered over a long period of time and millions of flights went without issues and most likely still had stubborn flyers on board. With that said, I’ll remember this report for awhile, because I really would rather not be the one in a million flight that has a major issue because I wanted to play Angry Bird during takeoff, and I’m sure many of you would rather not either.

[via BGR]

  • Jos

    It doesn’t appear that a correlation was proven, just that there was an incident and ipods/phones were one. Because both things happen in the same time frame doesn’t necessarily imply that they are related. To determine that they would have to test the devices and determine exactly how they managed to affect the flight systems.

    What you didn’t report on is the thousand of other incidents that happen with flight systems minor/major that cannot be attributed to electronic device use. We may be looking at faulty systems here, but it is much easier to blame the issues on electronic devices – that way the airline don’t have to tear down and properly retest their equipment.

    • Iman

      ..no way to fix typos?

    • Pattyryals

      dont u rather turn off your portable electronic devices than taking the chance that your phone is the one in a milion that might cause a problem. whats the problem with 
      turning it off when your not using it anyway……as a flight attendant i am just doing my job, I have guidelines and rules from th FAA that I HAVE to follow otherwise I might lose my job, and I’m sure the FAA didnt put out this rule during a casual lunch or a christmas party when someone said hey lets write this down, no people actually workd on these issues to try to make sure they are not disturbing the flights. And why to travellers have a problem with the guidance from a Flight attendant to scure the cabin for take off – I really dont like to talk to some of you but have to, hey i tell you to fasten your seat belt and you dont do it, wow would you really like me to come to your workplace and tell YOU how to do your job. and one more thing, I am sure when we have an emergency you dont mind me telling you wat to do, do you???????

      • Atlmainiac

        I’m also a flight attendant and your bad spelling, bad grammar, and misuse of the language are embarrassing!  The points you make are valid, but please be more careful with the language.

    • Brien2911

      Where do you work?. Just respect ( due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. You may have other issues in your life besides disobedience. Remember,…” Does the LORD delight in BURNT OFFERINGS and sacrifices as much as obeying the voice of the LORD { or one who has been given authority over you in a position or job) To obey is better than sacrifice and submission is better than offering the fat of rams. 1 Samuel 15:21. Let’s all get to our destinations safe and sound;

      • apilot

        I do not rely on your idiotic god, “lord”, or whatever your pathetic bj to some mythical creature makes you feel good, to safely fly an aircraft.

        I’d prefer you stay off my aircraft, thank you.  Use a donkey, please.

  • Linda Zembry

    Passengers can try to qualify PED use until the cows come home. As a Flight Attendant, I challenge anyone of the abusers of Safety Information to step into my shoes for one leg of a trip. Take away the Safety issue and what is left is simple respect for any given instruction. I had a Captain call me during a flight stating, “someone in the emergency exit row has a Blackberry on”. Sure enough, there was an offender. Why on earth would anyone want to subject themselves and others to a potential tragedy? Turn off the PED’s folks, you can live without them for ten minutes or be dead for eternity.

  • wind rider

    As a pilot flying the line for many years, I can tell you for a fact that cell phones definiately interupt the radios and cause blockage and interference (some phones worse than others).  I can tell almost every time when phones are left on.  The interference is distracting and is most intense at lower altitudes when our concentration level and communication with ATC is of high importance.  Safety is the most important thing in a flight, why would anyone knowingly compromise the safety of the passenges and crew? 

    • RO

      I am curious – is there NO interference from cell towers and ground users of phones/wifi in and around airports?   Since this seems to be of most concern during takeoff and landing, it seems those sources would be a factor, too, if not even more so. 

      Has there not been testing of the interactions of all these electronics?  Is it not ongoing to keep up with the changes in cellular technology such as WiMax and LTE,  and wifi 802.11n?  Are not avionics also advancing to be more robust?  Where is the technical info to back up these assertions? 

      Is it possible that the older analog cell bands that used more power were the basis for issues, and now that they are not in use, the situation has changed, but the regulations have not taken that into account?  Are interference “incidents” still occurring, and are they provably caused by modern personal communication devices that somehow do not really turn off emitters in “flight mode”?  Would that not be an FCC violation by the manufacturers?

      It is interesting that, by comparison, hospitals have been able to relax these restrictions, where life-support equipment is involved.  Is their situation that much technologically  different?

      Unfortunately,  we have become skeptical of those in authority imposing on our liberties for the nth degree of safety (more so with the TSA “assaults”).   As Ben Franklin wrote (or possibly publshed from another source): “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”    Admittedly, that is probably a bit overboard in terms of jabbering/texting on our phones (or just listening to music?) versus flight safety, but the TSA has contributed to hardening our attitudes around ARBITRARY flying regulations overall  – let’s blame them 😉

  • Spam

    Man I comply, but the rules do not make sense.  There is no good science behind these rules.  Like most of the current FAA and TSA stupidity it is aggravating and damaging.  Building radios that are not impacted by out of band transmissions is not that hard.  Not allocating PCS and cellphones to channels near navigational frequencies and aircraft communications is not hard either.  Getting politicians to not muddle this all up with getting frequencies for contributing companies, or security that makes it appear that they care, rather than security that is meaningful seems to be impossible.  Do I understand why these rules were made, yes.  Is there a good reason for them today, no.  Is there proof that they are effective, no.  Is it offensive to be subjected to the silly rules that existed because companies did not want to fix their defected gear.  Yes.

  • apilot

    If an electrical device causes a problem ( I doubt it ), then the shielding on aircraft systems/avionics is defective and should be fixed or re-designed.

    The reason we ask you to turn your devices off is so that you will be focused on paying attention, should something untoward occurs.

  • It is really very good post. I see everything completely clear. Mobile phones on flights are strictly regulated and there is concern that mobile phones represent a danger to aircraft and passengers. It is believed that could adversely affect navigation instruments in the cockpit and therefore these devices must be turned off while the aircraft is in flight.

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