Do E-Readers Really Present a Threat to Airplanes?
September 2, 2012 | 5:42 pm
By Dan Eldridge
The increasingly heated national debate surrounding the use of personal electronic devices on airplanes has been chugging along steadily for years now. And yet thanks to the laudable efforts of the New York Times‘ Nick Bilton, the conversation has once again become news.
As many of you are undoubtedly aware, a now-legendary Bilton piece appearing in the Times in late March—in which he criticized the F.A.A.’s rules against using e-readers and tablets during taxi, takeoff or landing—actually resulted in a somewhat positive governmental response: The F.A.A. promised to take “a fresh look” at the issue.
Frequent fliers everywhere, of course, have long been equally befuddled and frustrated by the confusion surrounding the PEDs-on-planes regulation: Most of us, I’d like to believe, would be only too happy to stow our Kindles and iPads during the required periods … if only we knew without a doubt that such devices could indeed cause interference with an aircraft’s electronic transmissions. But we don’t know that.
In fact, in an Aero magazine article published in March 2000, Boeing admits that after undertaking several investigations, it “has not been able to find a definite correlation between [personal electronic devices] and the associated reported airplane anomalies.”
* * *
Here’s another reason this issue is so endlessly frustrating: The vast majority of passengers who discuss it, or journalists who write about it, seem to approach the issue with their minds already made up. And yet because the F.A.A. itself doesn’t seem too terribly clear on the hows, whys and wherefores of its own regulations, it’s understandably difficult for those of us who are paying customers of the airlines to take the inconvenience laying down.
I found Kate Bevan’s recent piece in the Guardian to be especially even-measured. (My earlier reference to the Aero magazine article, by the way, came directly from her write-up.) Because she so smartly points out the logic behind both sides of the argument, I’d consider it a must-read for anyone who might be even slightly interested in the topic.
Meanwhile, Nick Bilton and scores of other journalists, bloggers and consumers are continuing to press the issue. I think it’s a fair guess to suspect that it was the ceaseless barrage of noise coming from both the media and the airlines’ consumers that eventually forced the F.A.A. into announcing its upcoming investigation.
Just five days ago, for those of you who may not be aware, the F.A.A. distributed a press release announcing plans for an “industry working group to study [the effects of] portable electronics usage” on aircraft. This almost certainly would not have happened if no one had discussed the current regulations–or debated them–in the first place.
And here’s where you come in. According to the aforementioned press release:
“As the first step in gathering information for the working group, the FAA is seeking public input on the agency’s current [personal electronic device] policies, guidance and procedures for operators. The Request for Comments, which will appear in the Federal Register on August 28th, is part of a data-driven agency initiative to review the methods and criteria operators use to permit PEDs during flights … Comments can be filed up to 60 days after the Federal Register publish date.”
So if this is a situation you would personally like to see resolved at some point in your lifetime, please: Write about it, blog about it, mention it on your favorite social networking sites, discuss it in online forums, discuss it with fellow passengers and airline employees during your next flight–whatever it takes.