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Can Mobile Devices Really Affect a Plane During Takeoff?

Maybe you’ve been guilty of leaving your phone on during takeoff or even in flight. It might have been an innocent mistake, or, maybe as a global traveler, you figure it can’t do much harm since airlines from other countries allow it. The FAA does not allow use of personal electronic devices on aircraft, but that policy might change. Here’s what you need to know.

The Actual Risk of Crashing Is Low

The main argument against using portable electronic devices during takeoff is the risk of electromagnetic interference. However, there have been no recorded instances of electronic devices bringing down a commercial plane or contributing to an accident. Additionally, the National Transportation Safety Board has never issued any recommendations about use of devices on planes. Considering this, many ask, what’s the harm?

The FAA is continually reviewing safety policies and the feasibility of allowing personal electronic devices. Though it’s never happened, there is some evidence that electronic interference “could” bring down a plane.

How Do Electronics Interfere with Flight?

Pilots have reported anecdotally that electronic devices have affected their ability to take off or land a plane, according to the International Air Transport Association. At a rate of one event per every 283,000 flights, the occurrence is admittedly low. The same report notes that electronic interference has the capacity to affect virtually every aircraft system, from communication and autopilot to warning systems and navigation.

At the root of the issue is the cost versus benefit of letting passengers use such devices. The benefits include passenger comfort. They are able communicate to with their loved ones or feel less bored, which may be important when planes are held on the runway. On the other hand, the potential consequences are high.

The problem isn’t that a cell phone will jam a radio or create other catastrophic scenarios that could cause a crash. These instances are unlikely. Safety officials warn that electronic devices can be a contributing factor to an accident simply because they make a pilot’s job harder.

The risk is so real that Boeing has its own Electromagnetic Interference Lab, where professionals study the effect of electronic devices on other plane systems. A laptop’s frequency, for example, can interfere with a pilot’s VFR radio. This alone won’t bring down an aircraft, but it does create more stress during the most critical stages of flight.

Takeoff and landing require a high degree of concentration, and problems caused by electronic devices could distract pilots from the tasks at hand. This would affect the safety of the plane and all the passengers on it – and this is the reason why the FAA does not allow electronic devices during takeoff.

A Changing Policy?

The FAA restricts use of personal electronic devices for the safety of passengers, but certain airlines are allowing use of the internet in flight. Through Virgin Atlantic airlines, you can use in-flight internet, but it’ll cost you $9 a minute. Don’t plan on using it during landing or takeoff any time soon, though.

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