Can electronic devices cause accidents on a plane?

No matter what the destination, the airline or the starting point, which is always present in any flight, is the reminder that all electronic devices must be turned off both on takeoff and landing. Nor need the sound of a cell, immediately after the wheels touch the runway, or the stewardess walk in the hallways, asking several passengers to turn off their electronic devices.

Currently the use of certain types of mobile devices is allowed only when the aircraft is at 10,000 feet altitude. However, a committee selected by the Federal Aviation Administration of the United States (FAA, for its acronym in English) spent months analyzing the possibility of relaxing the regulation and allow some are turned on during takeoff and landing.

Does recommending just introduced? Allow video games, tablets, MP3 and ebooks can be used in these phases of flight, provided that what you want to see, hear or read is in the unit before the plane starts moving. This is because the use of devices that emit strong electromagnetic signals, such as cell phones and laptops, is still prohibited.

Technical Risks

The study commissioned by the FAA focuses on takeoff and landing because they are considered critical phases of flight.

“Fundamental is that in these periods there are no interference because they are the most difficult moments of the flight, both the aircraft and the pilots are doing their best.” In both cases, fundamentals such as the proper functioning of hearing aids, so the pilots communicate with the control tower, are of the utmost importance”, Richard Taylor explains to BBC World, spokesperson for the Agency of Civil Aviation (CAA, for its acronym in English) in the United Kingdom.

Mobile electronic devices (PEDs, for its acronym in English), as officially is categorized to gadgets described above, are divided into two, depending on the intensity of the electromagnetic signal that emit. The PEDs not intentionally transmit electromagnetic signals include cameras, audio, video, electronic games and some toys. In the second group, the developing countries that do transmit are all phones, satellite phones and computers.

It is important to consider that modern aircraft have a large number of electronic systems that rely on the satellite signals and which are emitted from earth.


“The DCs have the potential to interfere with aircraft electronic systems, which pass through the motor control, navigation equipment and autopilot, to name a few. Interference could affect the operation of these devices, providing incorrect information and hindering communication of pilots. This could also increase the number of activities of the crew”, Dominic Fouda tells the BBC, representative of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

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A known interference is demodulation (recovery of the information contained in a modulated signal) to the mobile phones.

“This affects the audio of several systems, and it is difficult to predict how you will react to these devices, it is virtually impossible to protect the aircraft from the entire range of interferences which may occur, so the safest option is to keep them off”, says Fouda, who used the EFSA guidelines as a reference.

But what is the evidence that exists to support the theoretical arguments?

The spokesman of the CAA referred to the reports of interference with flight systems caused by electronic devices that occur in different parts of the world, are not formally documented in one place. Furthermore, in many cases, are empirical.

“Pilots of a Boeing 747 in Miami reported that during the lifting phase, shortly after takeoff, the aircraft veered to the right when they had set the course to the left. For this reason, it was necessary to adjust the rate on three occasions, not to exceed stipulated. During this period there was a passenger using the phone. The rest of the flight proceeded normally”, Taylor tells BBC as an example.

In this sense, Fouda says that fortunately has not been determined that the use of PEDs has caused an accident. “But if we have evidence that aircraft incidents, such as activation of the fire detection program and the temporary inability to use some systems, is linked to the use of PEDs that transmit electromagnetic signals”.

The Next Step

The regulations currently in force regarding the use of electronic devices on a flight usually abide in the world of international aviation, although different agencies in charge of aviation safety in Europe, America and other parts of the world have their own guidelines. In most cases, the conventions in this area date back to the late 50s and early 60s, when he began appearing FM radios causing interference with existing navigation systems at that time.

The FAA has to decide whether to accept the suggestions made by the committee composed of representatives of carriers, international air safety agencies and experts in the field. It is speculated that it is likely to do and that the changes take effect in 2014.

This would occur in the United States. The rest of the organizations in charge of aviation regulations elsewhere in the report and resolved evaluate whether changes mimic the FAA. Before, however, airlines will have to certify that their fleet is prepared to deal with the signals emitted by tablets, video games, MP3 players and similar devices.


Joyesh Chakma



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