updated 04:35 pm EDT, Wed May 15, 2013
Cellphone allegedly sends aircraft off course
An iPhone has been blamed for a navigation error during a commercial airline flight in 2011, fueling the ongoing debate surrounding in-flight device usage. According to a Bloomberg report, an unnamed regional airliner experienced compass malfunctions when climbing past 9,000 feet, sending the aircraft off course until a flight attendant asked a passenger to turn off an iPhone.
"In my opinion and past experience the cellphone being on and trying to reconnect to the towers on the ground, along with the location of row 9 to the instrumentation in the wing caused our heading to wander," the pilot noted in a report (PDF) submitted to NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System. "The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved."
Despite the anecdotal report, formal studies disagree on the potential interference from cellphones and other electronic devices. Boeing acknowledges reports of instrument malfunction thought to be caused by portable electronic devices (PEDs), however the aircraft manufacturer's internal investigations have failed to find a "definitive correlation" between the equipment anomalies and device usage.
The Federal Aviation Administration in 1991 established regulations prohibiting passengers from using cellphones during flights, though the agency cites "potential interference with ground networks" as the primary reasoning for the restrictions. The Commission considered modifying the ban in 2004, though the proposal was later withdrawn. Airlines can still apply for an exemption, however, after demonstrating non-interference for particular devices used inside specific aircraft models.