60-Second Tech

Use of Portable Electronics in Flight Still up in the Air

The aviation industry lacks conclusive proof that gadgets do (or don't) interfere with instruments. Larry Greenemeier reports

"Would you really get on an airplane…if you thought one Kindle switch could take it down? Come on, it's just a cruel joke perpetrated by the airline industry." Alec Baldwin jokingly posed this question on Saturday Night Live after he'd been kicked off a flight last year. Surprisingly, given the number of gadgets we take on airplanes, there's no definitive answer to his question.

The aviation industry says portable electronics may cause electromagnetic interference with aircraft controls. Yet nobody—the FAA, aircraft-makers or airlines—has been willing to pay for a conclusive study that would put the issue to rest.

Here's what we do know: The air below 10,000 feet—the ascent or descent phase of a flight—is more turbulent than at 30,000 feet, when we're allowed to turn our electronics back on. A pilot has less time to react at lower altitudes to a possible instrument problem.

So even though there's talk of relaxing the rules about personal gadget use on planes, until someone proves that portable electronics won't cause an accident, none of us will be playing words With Friends during takeoff.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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