Using smartphones on hundreds of planes is dangerous

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Hundreds of Boeing jets around the world could be deemed unsafe by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) because the smartphones of passenger and other external frequencies are interfering with flight systems.

Anyone who has flown before knows that one of the first things they are told to do when they board is to switch off their mobile phone or turn their digital device on to airplane or flight mode.

But even flight mode could pose a flight risk, Professor Tim Wilson, department chair for electrical, computer, software and systems engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told Bloomberg.

The dangers have been limited to certain models of Boeing 737 (Next Generation) and 777 planes but, according to the FAA, there were more than 1300 jets registered in the US that have cockpit screens vulnerable to interference from wifi, mobile phones and some outside frequencies.

This is not a revelation to the FAA. Screen manufacturer Honeywell told the FAA in 2014 that 10,100 display units – or the equivalent of nearly 1700 planes (planes have six screens apiece) – were affected worldwide.

Honeywell said that 8000 of those screens have already been replaced and fewer than 400 components, or the equivalent of about 70 planes, still need to be fixed.

Honeywell also claims that some airlines may have had screens replaced by non-Honeywell contractors – although it can’t be sure – so there may still possibly be hundreds of planes flying with the unsafe systems.

According to the FAA, interference could “result in loss of airplane control at an altitude insufficient for recovery”. Honeywell spokeswoman Nina Krauss said the company had not heard of any blanking display screens caused by mobile phones while an airplane was in flight, even though FAA tests proved that screens in jets had failed.

Regardless, passengers are advised to switch off their phones entirely, if they are not needed, and to make sure that any devices in bags are also switched off, or at least in flight mode.

Do you leave your phone on when you fly?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 6
  1. 0

    Why leave your phone on when you fly? It is unlikely that any phone call is that important that it can’t wait until safely on the ground again. There are of course those whose psychological need for their phone “crutch” is overwhelming.
    What on earth did we do before mobile phones or even before smartphones?

    • 0

      I agree Tanker, you have serious issues if you cant bear to leave your phone off for the duration of a flight. What did we do before them you ask, well we actually paid attention while driving, didn’t annoy fellow diners with them in restaurants and had the politeness to engage with people in our company rather than ignoring them and staring at a screen. People have become the slaves rather than the masters of their phones.

  2. 0

    Why leave your phone on when you fly? It is unlikely that any phone call is that important that it can’t wait until safely on the ground again. There are of course those whose psychological need for their phone “crutch” is overwhelming.
    What on earth did we do before mobile phones or even before smartphones?

  3. 0

    What about other devices like ipads? I like reading on the plane and am planning to get some e-books and have the option to put the device on to airplane mode. I wonder whether it’s just the phone calls that could cause problems. I always switch off my mobile phone when in the cinema, doctor and on planes.

    • 0

      Its the transmission that is the problem. If you have downloaded books or films to your ipad then you can turn off data and phone access and just read/watch offline. Or if you want to be sure, use a Kindle instead.

  4. 0

    I always switch off my mobile phone when I fly. About 30 years ago I was involved in an engineering investigation of anomalies in a individual Leopard tank fire control system (ie the electronics which assist the gunner to get a first round kill). An intermittent fault we could not replicate in the workshop, but every time we handed it back to the crew the fault reappeared. After a lot of hard work, expensive repairs and engineering and scientific investigation (including involving the system manufacturer in Germany) one of the boffins suggested a mobile phone may be causing the problem. Turns out the crew commander had a mobile phone (before smartphones) which he carried with him at all times (even if he could not use it). The young officer was directed not to take his phone near his tank, miraculously the problem disappeared. Do not think we ever worked out the exact problem but banning mobile phones from tanks stopped it from re-occurring. I suspect the same could occur in any area with a lot of electronics, such as aircraft or hospitals. Nowadays electronic designers are aware of potential issues and ‘harden’ electronics against external interference but no ‘hardening’ can be assumed to be 100% effective. I remember this when I board an aircraft.



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