Business, Finance & Economics

The myth behind the 'no electronics' airline policy


The 30-year-old airline policy that bans the use of electronic devices on planes has little evidence show that gadgets are actually a hazard in flights.


Sandra Mu

Many are familiar with the take-off drill when on airplanes: bags stowed, seat-belts fastened and all electronics turned off. But the decades-old airline policy of prohibiting passengers from using any devices with an on-off switch out of fear of interference might be unfounded, according to a news report.

There has never been a study that said there is conclusive evidence electronics interfere with avionics, ABC News aviation analyst and pilot John Nance told TIME

“[Airlines] wrote the scripts that phones can interfere with the systems of the aircraft,” Nance said. “But there is zero evidence.”

The report continues: “The evidence to support such interference seems to be, at best, anecdotal...flight crews have merely been taught to instruct passengers based on an err-on-the-side-of-caution policy.”

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It is not to say there haven’t been any studies regarding the use of electronic while on flight.

A report by the International Air Transport Association found 75 instances between 2003 and 2009 where electronic interference was cited as the cause of some kind of airplane performance hiccup. The IATA report stressed they found no direct correlation between electronic interference from personal gadgets and plane function, however.

There also seems to be a discrepancy in enforcing “no-electronics” policy.

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The Federal Aviation Administration announced Tuesday that American Airlines pilots are allowed to use iPads in the cockpit during takeoff, in-flight and landing phases, The New York Times reported.

Gadgets – especially the iPad – were found to be problematic when engineers in Seattle showed the Apple product, including other electronics, exceeded what Boeing considers the acceptable limit for aircraft equipment.

So why are pilots allowed to use iPads in the cockpit but passengers can’t in the cabin? The cockpit is limited to a two-maximum gadget rule which is “significantly different” to the cabin, the FAA said.

“This involves a significantly different scenario for potential interference than unlimited passenger use, which could involve dozens or even hundreds of devices at the same time,” the FAA said in the statement to the NY Times.