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Study Says Cell Phones Can Interfere With Planes 469

3x37 writes "The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website reports a study by Cargenie Mellon University researchers found that cell phones do interfere with airplane cockpit instruments. The researchers came to this takeaway conclusion: "devices like cell phones 'will, in all likelihood, someday cause an accident by interfering with critical cockpit instruments such as GPS receivers.'""
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Study Says Cell Phones Can Interfere With Planes

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  • Cargenie. Sounds like something that can be an air-freshener, a CD-player, and a beverage cooler all at once.
  • Good! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by xTMFWahoo ( 470364 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:21AM (#14826456) Homepage
    All I need when I'm trying to sleep on my flight is some yahoo yelling on his/her cell phone. I think people can spend just a few hours away from thier cell.
  • Hmmm... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PrinceAshitaka ( 562972 ) * on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:21AM (#14826458) Homepage
    I would really like to actually see this study. The researchers go so far as to say that in the future a crash will be caused by some portable electronics. There must be a way to engineer around this. They not only name cells as a culprit but also laptops and other electronics. How much EM radiation do these devices really produce? It can't be that much. How sensitive are these GPS systems in the planes. Is the GPS system the only affected system? By how much is the GPS system affected. Does it show an error of a dozen meters of a dozen kilometers or does it simply not work at all? To a certain point I understand banning cell phones, but other electronic devices?
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Informative)

      According to Carnegie Mellon's alumni page ( l []), G. William Strauss's graduate thesis was "Portable electronic devices onboard commercial aircraft: Assessing the risks." Published 2005.

      Any CMU students willing to use their library access and a photocopier for the expansion of human knowledge before the IEEE article is published in March?

    • How much similar EM radiation is coming off the plane itself and all its integral electronics?

      I had this happen in a hospital waiting room years ago. I knew my battery was shot, so I asked at reception if I could plug in somewhere. "Oh, no, this is a HOSPITAL. We have VERY sensitive equipment in here. We can't have computers running." I sort of chuckled and said "yes, while the first two are true, uhm, [pointing to the several commodity computers on the desk, complete with massive CRTs], what are those stra
    • My assumption has always been that the electronic devices are a distraction, and therefore need to be turned off in case of any sort of emergency announcement by pilots or stewardesses.

      I.e. it's not that they're interfering with the instruments, it's that they're making you unable to hear announcements during the two most dangerous parts of a flight.

    • How much EM radiation do these devices really produce? It can't be that much.

      It's obviously much greater for a mobile phone than other electronic devices, but a laptop/gaming handheld with wireless technology could still produce a significant amount.

      Is the GPS system the only affected system?

      Almost certainly not. I suspect GPS was mentioned because it's the only technology most readers would understand. It's not legal to navigate solely by GPS, and the modile phone ban has certainly been part of
    • (Quoting from memory)

      Toby Ziegler, to Flight Attendant:

      "We're flying in a Lockheed Series L1011. It came off the line 20 months ago. It carries a Sim-5 transponder tracking system. Are you telling me I can flummox this thing with something I bought at Radio Shack?"

      'Nuff Said
    • Besides, they make us TURN OFF all our electronics during take off and prior to landing. The only time it *should* be an issue is at cruising altitude. Since we've been using our electronics like this for a hell of a long time, I doubt it's fair to say someday it'll cause a crash. I'll go on record as saying that faulty galley equipment will someday result in a mid-air fire, so lets ban coffee and tea on flights.
    • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Informative)

      by Devynn ( 948459 )
      I've got my private and instrument pilot's license. At one point during my instrument license training I had my cell phone with me and recevied a call because I didn't shut it off. When the call started ringing, my instruments I would use for landing in Instrument Meterological Conditions began to behave erradicly. Granted, my phone was in my pocket and in close proximity to the instruments but still, they can cause interference. I'm not sure how much interference someone's cell in the back of the plane is
    • If these devices can interfere enough to cause an airline accident, then the avionics probably should be better shielded against this kind of information. After all, if a device could accidently cause interfere, why couldn't someone intentionally cause interference that is tailored to target specfic instruments?
    • Any IFR certified GPS receiver *must* include a feature called RAIM - Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring. The point of RAIM is that the receiver can detect when it is giving erroneous navigational information. At that point the receiver 'RAIM flags' rather than giving the crew misleading information. The crew can then ask for radar vectors (in the highly unlikely event that GPS is their sole navigation system) from ATC because they know it's wrong.

      Cell phones DO interfere with aircraft radios though,
  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website reports a study by Cargenie Mellon University researchers found that cell phones do interfere with airplane cockpit instruments.

    The CarGenie researchers also found that they interfere with garage door openers as well.

  • The findings come as the Federal Communications Commission is considering lifting the ban on the use of cell phones during flight.

    Why would the FCC 'consider' lifting this ban? If technologies like AirCell [] are involved, cell calls from airplanes are completely safe. If not, however, there's no point in lifting the ban, as an unassisted cellphone call has an extremely poor chance [] of getting through above 2000 feet (which would be during landings and takeoffs...precisely when you cell calls can be most haz
    • Re:'Consideration'? (Score:2, Informative)

      by Niebieski ( 781986 )

      If not, however, there's no point in lifting the ban, as an unassisted cellphone call has an extremely poor chance of getting through above 2000 feet (which would be during landings and takeoffs...precisely when you cell calls can be most hazardous).

      You are right about phones not being able to place calls above 2k feet (I fly a cessna and was once able to receive a call at 1.5k, but not higher). However, do you know what a CDMA phone does when it has difficulty communicating with a cell tower? It incre
    • I used to work with Aircell on a daily basis, to the point where I had a constant VPN connection into their NOC. The idea that cellphones interfere with an airplane's avionics is absolute horseshit. IT IS A PLOY USED TO SCARE PEOPLE INTO COMPLIANCE.

      The real problem with cell phones in the air is this: cellphones rely on line of sight to a cell tower. If you are on the ground, there are plenty of obstructions that prevent your cell signal from going more than a mile or three. But in the sky... your
  • On most every flight I've been on recently, I can recall at least one wayward cell phone ringing by someone who has forgotten to turn their phone off.

    That most large commercial flights are probably carrying some number of cell phones that are turned on, and that there doesn't appear to be a change in the number of airline incidents as the number of cell phones has increased, indicates to me that the study is probably flawed.

    • I just turn the ringer off, and leave my phone on. In fact, if I have a laptop with me, I usually leave it on in my bag with netstumbler [] running. I always have my GPS with me -- on and next to the window (I've even taped it to the window on some trips).

      It would be of poor design to make the airplanes' electronics easily interferable, and if that is the case, then they shouldn't leave the ground in the first place. If I can bring a plan down while snapping pictures with my camera phone, the TSA has far la
      • I usually leave it on in my bag with netstumbler running. I always have my GPS with me -- on and next to the window (I've even taped it to the window on some trips).

        Of first, why? Second, what kind of GPS you using? My Garmin GPSMap76 won't even get a lock or loses lock once we are zipping along at 400+ MP/H.
        • Why? I like to collect wardriving data []. I like to take pictures of the wing, clouds, and airline food. I enjoy using my electronic devices on a plane. If they're not going to give me a comfortable seat for me to sit in, I might as well take pictures, blog, or scan for Wi-Fi.

          I'm using a Garmin ETrex Legend, and it seems to work fine in the air at 400+ mph. This thing has seen some extremely heavy use over the last 4 years. I use rechargable batteries all the time, which is really the way to go. Extremely
  • No way.

    I go on a road trip with three phones around me (not all mine) and a Garmin GPS and it works just fine.

    you're telling me that a multi-million dollar instrument panel is more vulnerable than a 350$ garmin GPS I bought at walmart? ...

    Plus they FLY THROUGH areas of strong RF radiation all the time. From cell towers to AM/FM broadcasts to something we in the industry like to call ***RADAR***.

    It's just a load of bullshit for three reasons

    1. They want you to use the expensive inflight phone
    2. It annoys
    • "3. In the event of an accident you're phone, laptop, cd player, gameboy, etc is a nice loose projectile."

      What about the two hundred 250 pound passengers that aren't strapped in? People, whether the vehicle is a plane or a car, never consider themselves the deadliest projectiles. I always belt up during the entire flight, as much as possible, anyway. A good reason to strap in a baby, other than the baby's safety, is that it become a twenty pound cannonball during an accident.

      I frightened myself on a bus the
      • Yeah that too. When I can (I'm not what you call a small dude and planes aren't made for normal sized people anyways) i always leave it on for the entire flight no matter if it's 30mins of 8 hours.

        though I've been in seats with a 12" seat belt (e.g. ridiculously short). I think honestly they have no standards. I've been on flights with huge seat belts that even I can tighten up a good 6" or so (recalling I'm a big dude...).

        KLM though (dutch) are the worse for both space, seating and seatbelts. Their inf
      • If you're in a plane, and 250lb people start to become projectiles, you have other things to worry about -- like the ground.
        • "Turbulence. Solar radiation heats the earth's crust, warm air rises, cool air descends, Turbulence. I don't like that."

          The overstuffed compartments directly over our heads are more likely to injure you. I've seen those pop open on bumpy flights.
          • Hm, I've been tempted to fill a suitcase with assorted and various marital aids, just to give the TSA something fun to do while xraying or searching me. I can imagine that a poorly-packed suitcase in an exploding overstuffed compartment might be rather amusing, especially if they were already sicky.
      • I frightened myself on a bus the other day by imagining the giganormous woman in front of me carreening into me at 45 miles an hour if the bus had had to stop suddenly. Ow.

        Hang on. If this lump of lard is in front of you then if the bus stops suddenly she will carry on moving forwards, not back into you. You, on the other hand will move forwards, perhaps into her, and you'd have the benefit of a large flabby lardbag to cushion you like a car's airbag.
    • Re:um what? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DieByWire ( 744043 )
      I go on a road trip with three phones around me (not all mine) and a Garmin GPS and it works just fine.

      So what? A lot of people smoke and don't get lung cancer. Your few hours of sporadically monitored GPS performance don't mean anything statistically.

      They want you to use the expensive inflight phone

      The inflight phones were removed from our fleet years ago.

      It annoys others on the plane

      True, but you don't need RF studies to prove that.

      In the event of an accident you're phone, laptop, cd pla

    • Re:um what? (Score:3, Interesting)

      One reason that is often overlooked is that the metal body of the cabin makes a very nice resonance cavity, and thus amplifies the signal considerably. As a result, a small source inside the plane has a much better chance of interferring with the sensitive on-board electronics than a strong external source. Also, tolerances for failure are significantly lower for a GPS unit on an aircraft than for a hand-held GPS device on the ground. What might be considered insignificant interference for a consumer GPS un
    • No way.

      I go on a road trip with three phones around me (not all mine) and a Garmin GPS and it works just fine.

      Heh. Nothing like outright dismissal of a scientific study from one of the most reputable universities on the planet based on intuition, anecdotal evidence and a summary from a news organization. Tell me, what does your gut feel about having evolved from apes? For or against? Gonna call bullshit?
  • From TFA:

    "And despite the ban on cell phone use during flights, the researchers discovered that on average one to four cell phone calls are made from every commercial flight in the northeast United States."

    There's always someone who thinks the rules don't apply to them. Even if there wasn't an interference issue, I'd still advocate a cell-phone ban on planes. Who wants to sit next to someone blathering away for an entire flight (and you know there would be people who would do that)?
  • Shouldn't airplanes (the software controlling them) be able to deal with bad information coming in from their GPS systems, either by shutting down, and letting the pilot take over, or having redundant systems that detect when a sensor is giving incorrect data? Don't pilots have to know how to navigate and control the plane without GPS in the case where it isn't working.
  • ...before planes had GPS, they dropped out of the sky all the damned time.
  • I like my "scientific findings" to come in the form of published articles, not a note in a random newspaper I've never heard of. So I googled around a little bit and it turns out that this is the PhD Thesis of this Bill Strauss guy. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the thesis online, nor any papers published by that fellow during the writing of said thesis. So I'll be taking this with a grain of salt, as I don't know what the requirements on quality for getting a PhD at Cargenie Mellon University is either.
  • by Rob T Firefly ( 844560 ) on Wednesday March 01, 2006 @11:31AM (#14826550) Homepage Journal
    Unortunately, the same self-important gadget love that has people driving one-handed while juggling a phone with the other ensures that nobody will ever pay much attention to the cell phone ban until an actual plane crash happens, and is conclusively proven to have been caused by someone's phone.

    Sad, really.
    • people will continue to do it with thoughts like this in their minds:

      "well they were just idiots..."
      "I bet they were lying..."
      "It won't happen if I make just this one little call..."
      "I bet the plane won't really crash..."
      "hey, they didn't actually take the phone away, so if we crash it'll be their fault...
      "... and I can sue!"

      how many common rationalizations can you think of that people commonly use to avoid responsibility or make the convenient not illegal?
  • On every single flight I have been on, we've all been told to switch off all electronic equipment during take off and landing and to keep cell phones off during the whole flight, even ones with Flight Mode enabled.
  • "Study Says Cell Phones Can Interefere With Planes"

    Do cell phones also "interefere" with SPELL CHECK?

  • Since Hollywood is the inspiration for many of these studies, I'd like to refer to the documentary Die Hard 2. There was a crash caused by a combination of bad weather conditions, malicous interference by resetting the ground level reported to the plane and the destination airport being controlled by terrorists. The planes with the people using cell phones to communicate with family and the media did not crash.

    Until we start replacing pilots with minimum wage aircraft operator trainees, the crash conclusi
  • Better not fly over any phone masts or tv transmitters then, they chuck out a lot more wattage.

    This is cobblers, and even it it wasn't the correct answer is to shield the cockpit, not rely on everyone obeying the stewardess.


    • The skin of an airplane makes a good Faraday cage, except for the windows. Transmitters on the inside have an advantage over outside ones when it comes to causing interference.

      >the correct answer is to shield the cockpit, not rely on everyone obeying the stewardess.

      Good insight. You'd also have to look at the shielding of the miles of wiring running through the passenger compartment, so it does get harder, but counting on hundreds of people to all do the right thing millions of times in a row is not sane
  • This is pretty amusing, really. Commercial aircraft flew just fine, and with an excellent safety record for over 50 years before GPS technology was introduced.

    Then, the GPS system was added - ostensibly as an aid to safe navigation. But the quote in the summary implies that it has become a single point of failure, which can result in an accident. ("CAUTION: Loss of aircraft may occur").

    I know this article is about cellphones, not GPS systems. But am I the only one who has a vision of a dog chasing its

    • The study is flawed. Flight crew do not rely on a single source of data to tell them what's going on ever (well, at least professional ones don't - included in that are private pilots who fly in a professional manner). In addition, IFR GPS receivers have something called RAIM which enables them to know and inform the crew when their navigational accuracy is questionable.

      Airliners today use not only GPS, but INS (inertial navigation - which requires no external inputs once it's set running) as well as old-fa
  • So long as there are no jackasses talking on their phone, I'll be ok with the reasoning. I might even be willing to accept some pseudo science...
  • This article [] contains numerous links about transient behaviour, erroneous fire warnings and other odd things caused by electronic devices in the cabin.

    It is a small number, but it is non-zero.

    Especially worrying are the cases where the glideslope indicators were being "misled" because of apparent electronic interference from the back.

    This was also discussed at length on PPRuNe a while ago.

  • one, nobody has shown a close call yet in practice.

    two, the original source is of, ahhhh, developing trust, and not availiable for independent study.

    puts this in the realm of "anomalous results in deuterated metals," shall we say.
  • that a cell phone could cause a crash, they would confiscate them at the gate. Its a BS proposition.

    That said, I am a person who travels by air frequently, and the last thing I want is some person sitting next to me screaming into his cell phone. The once in a blue moon someone uses that 27.00/minute phone in the seat back is enough. Some self important guy uses his cell to call home and bitch at his employee/vendor/wife/kid/dog, and I'd punch him in the nose.
    • I would have to agree. I have been saying this for years. If they could really bring down a plane, then there's no way they'd ever be allowed on the plane. It is simply a way to control the masses. As a frequent flier, I often listen to my iPod or play my PSP while taxiing, takeoff and landing. I have never been involved in any type of air incident. And have never been told of interference.

      Most cell phones have issues tracking cell towers as they move fast. My cell phone is almost never turned off.
  • There's nothing more irritating for a pilot than to be told that an airplane is going to fall out of the sky becuase somebody's using a cellphone. That's total BS! I fly aircraft with advanced avionics regularly and I've never seen a single example where a mobile telephone left on will interfere with anything.

    A modern jetliner has redundant GPS receivers, fuel systems, hydraulic systems, etc. If a 767 can run out of fuel and the pilot land the aircraft safely using non-powered backup instruments and almost
  • A polar bear will, in all likelihood, someday choke on a penguin.
  • Further study by Y-Crate Heavy Industries indicates that: "...devices like cell phones will, in all likelihood, someday cause an accident by pissing off the other passengers to the point where in-air rioting occurs."

    Amtrak's Quiet Car [] is a success for a reason. People are increasingly irritated by rude cellphone users to the point where I've seen encounters between passengers on trains prompted by someone refusing to exchange their "cellphone voice" for their "indoor voice". It is also the reason why I,
  • So, your cell phone will interfere with the GPS in the cabin, but not with the GPS INSIDE THE CELL PHONE .

  • Hmmm, let's see if I understand this right. A cell phone can bring down an aircraft......... and yet....... aircraft routinely get struck by lightning and that doesn't interfere with ANY aircraft electronics?
  • They have not taken steps to insure that the Avionics are safe at this point on all the major airlines... No instead they let everyone fly on the honor system. Do you promise to turn off your cell Mr. Terrorist?

    Next to locked cockpit doors this seems like a no-brainer. Sure, it will be costly to fix, but not as costly as a couple downed aircraft.

  • I have watched people in first class (and back with me in the cheap seats) jabbering away on cell phones. It was irritating once because the rather large woman was also quite loud and spent the entire flight engaged in a conversation that was probably not suitable for the public. I was six rows away and heard her--which you probably know is no small feat.

    Oddly enough, the plane still managed to find its way.
  • Seriously. If it's really an issue then there is no choice but to address the problem in the instruments. They are not going to ban cell phones from the planes and when they are there they are going to be used either intentionally or accidentally.

    It's the same situation in hospitals - If cell phones can interfere with medical equipment then people's lives are at risk and they should redesign the equipment... not try in vain to beg everyone to remember to turn off their cell phones.
  • On a recent KLM flight from Copenhagen to Amsterdam the flight crew made an extra announcement prior to take off urging everyone to double check their phones were switched off.

    It was worded it such a way that my colleague and me were wondering if they were indeed monitoring the GSM frequencies within the airframe.

    On the other hand, the number of calls already made on the surveyed flights kind of prove the added risk of mobile phones to the control of the plane is negligent. With a cell base station on bo

  • by p0 ( 740290 )
    You mean all these days the flight crew has been warning us based on.. err.. a guess?

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein