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Testing casts doubt on FAA's restrictions on iPads, Kindles

updated 08:50 pm EST, Sun December 25, 2011

Tests suggest no effect from devices in airplanes

An examination of the FAA's rules demanding shutdowns of electronic devices during takeoff and landing has cast more doubt on the ban. The New York Times found through EMT Labs tests that the electromagnetic interference from current devices, such as an Amazon Kindle and a Sony voice recorder, was around 30 microvolts, or well under the 100 volts per meter limit the FAA demands. While iPads weren't measured, they too would be well under the limit.

FAA arguments that many more devices would cause dramatically more interference also didn't hold up. CSI Telecommunications head engineer Bill Ruck noted that interference doesn't scale directly and slows down as the number of devices goes up. If a full cabin interfered with an airplane, no one could safely enter an office building "without wearing protective gear," EMT labs testing lead Kevin Bothmann said.

A Boeing engineer that co-authored a 2006 FAA report that enforced the device bans during takeoff and landing acknowledged that at least some devices, such as the voice recorder, didn't cause interference. No explanation has been given directly responding to the challenges, however.

The new study isn't definitive proof of a lack of issues. It may still point to the FAA rules being based more on stereotypes and early reactions than actual knowledge.

By Electronista Staff
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  1. Jake Mccurdy

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jul 2011


    Soooo sick of this

    Do we really want to give the flight attendants discretion over which devices cause risk and which don't? What happens when the next e-reader or tablet comes out from some no name China vendor and it does put out interference? I'd rather not risk my life so that someone can spend 15 more minutes on their iPad? This whole discussion seems pretty self centered to me.

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: Jul 2006


    Interference unlikely

    Interference to avionics from small digital devices is extremely unlikely. Their power is typically 0.1 watt or less for WiFi and a couple of watts for cellular phones. Aircraft landing and taking off routinely fly through digital TV broadcast signals that are running vastly more power than that without the slightest problem.

    That doesn't mean that the use of some devices shouldn't be restricted for other reasons, including passenger comfort. I certainly don't want to fly cross-country seated next to a loud salesman who makes phone call after phone call on his cell phone or Skype.

  1. charlituna

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Sep 2009


    still not likely to get the rules yanked

    aside from the alleged interference issue there's also the issue that most accidents are during take off or landing. Which means they will still want people to not be using their devices, especially with headphones on, so they can give their full attention to any instructions.

    but really it's what 20 maybe 30 minutes out of your life that you can't mess with your phone or whatever. is it really that big of a deal.

  1. designr

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2002


    Well at least....

    this will make Alec Baldwin happy.

  1. efithian

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2004



    It's a matter of personal liberty to use the devices we wish, when we want to. If I can read a book or sleep on takeoff, why not one of the mobile devices. It is so noisy on planes that no one will hear the phone conversation of their neighbor passenger and hands free will be necessary. It is the same argument that cars should be banned because they scare the horses.

  1. ebeyer

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jun 2004



    We have to have these rules, regardless of any evidence to the contrary because .... shut up.

  1. ckeller

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Dec 2011



    I have no problems with rules and think that attention during takeoff and landing is best not on your electronic device but lies should not be accepted for any purpose at any time, regardless of the outcome.

  1. redgirl

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Nov 2011



    I agree with ckeller. If it is probable that my random electronic device will cause interference with the airplane's instruments, I will gladly power it off and put it away. I can easily replace my electronics with a book or just suffer through the boredom if it affects the safety of me and those around me. However, if my phone causes no such damage, please, let me text, play a game ,or use my budgeting app on the always crowded and too long flight.

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