Report: Phones really could cause planes to crash

An airline industry investigation suggests that 75 airline incidents may have been caused by interference from cell phones or other electronic devices.

Have you ever forgotten to turn your cell phone off during a flight? Did you survive?

The question might seem slightly churlish, but the airline industry would like you to know that your little electronic devices--yes, just one of them--can really, truly, seriously mess with the aircraft's systems.

ABC News managed to get hold of a report by the International Air Transport Association that makes for very interesting reading. For it seems to link up to 75 incidents on planes with interference from cell phones or other electronic devices.

Rational minds will, no doubt, judge the evidence through their own filters. However, in 75 of these reported incidents between 2003 and 2009, 26 involved interference with the flight controls.

The evidence presented in this report still feels anecdotal, rather than scientific.

For example: "At about 4,500 feet, the autopilot disengaged by itself and the associated warnings/indications came on. (Flight attendants) were immediately advised to look out for PAX (passengers) operating electronic devices...(Attendants) reported that there were 4 PAX operated electronic devices (1 handphone and 3 iPods)."

Does that feel like proof? Well, perhaps.

The cases cited all seem to indicate that a renewed effort by the cabin crew to persuade passengers to turn off their devices resulted in the aircraft systems (for example, a cockpit clock spinning backwards) returning to their normal function.

Dave Carson of Boeing told ABC News that it just takes a stray cell phone signal "in the right place at the right time" to create serious technological havoc in the cockpit. Some electronic sensors are, after all, hidden in the cabins that house the passengers. Older planes, are, apparently, not as well protected as newer models from this kind of interference.

Carson then demonstrated exactly how the signals from BlackBerrys, iPhones, and iPads might create interference by taking ABC News into Boeing's test chamber.

The fact is, though, just as with airport security procedures, many passengers simply don't believe that the airlines' entreaties to turn off all devices are actually based on truth.

I am personally convinced that many people who go to the restrooms during flights that aren't Wi-Fi enabled take their cell phones with them in order to check messages. Why else would they spend so long in there?

And yet perhaps the only way that many people will be convinced is if a plane goes down and there is conclusive proof that the reason it went down was because someone wouldn't stop gaming on his or her iPad.

 

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