The Corner

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Please Leave On All Electronic Devices


The Federal Aviation Administration is proposing a new rule which would prohibit pilots from using electronic devices in the cockpit for personal use, while allowing them for professional purposes (most of those 40-pound flight manuals have been replaced by iPads). So far, so good: the FAA wishes to reduce distractions of pilots, essentially saying, “Don’t text and fly.”

But what about the other few hundred people who are not flying the plane? Concern over their devices’ electromagnetic output prompts the FAA to force the airlines to demand passengers turn off all electronic devices for takeoffs and landings. But as the New York Times’ Nick Bilton has pointed out, there seems to be no significant electromagnetic output difference between 250 or so passenger electronic devices and the two iPads the pilots have for official use in the cockpit. The FAA rules even require airlines to force their passengers to turn off such rudimentary electronics as noise-cancelling headsets and MP3 players that have no screen (think of an iPod shuffle). While no one really wants there to be phone conversations on the airplane, there is a clear difference between that and reading a Kindle. Forcing airlines to make passengers turn off electronic devices for takeoffs and landings seems to only make air travel less welcome and enjoyable. (I used to think this was only a minor annoyance until a string of flights with over an hour on the runway waiting for takeoff clearance.)

I appreciate that the FAA wants to prove something safe before giving it the green light on commercial flights. Therefore, I propose a test to speed up their approval process: You only need two pilots and a plane, something that is well with the FAA’s ability to arrange. Turn on 250 devices while on the ground, fly somewhere, and collect all the data the FAA wants. In fact, just one person could join the flight in the cabin to ensure all the devices are fully connected and operational throughout the test. I am so confident that there is no danger to flight safety that I happily volunteer to be that person.