Tuesday, August 28, 2012

About time...

By popular demand, the Federal Aviation Administration is forming a group to study policies governing the use of consumer electronics in the sky.
While I'm sure it's possible that playing with your vaccuum tube tester in the smoking section of a Convair 600 would mess with the LORAN-A receiver something fierce, it's getting harder to buy into the whole idea that the tiniest electrical impulse in the cabin will send a modern jetliner veering wildly out of control to crash into the nearest orphanage or oil refinery when the pilot's approach plates are on a frickin' iPad.

Seriously, if a plane's electronics are so temperamental that they're in danger of going all divide-by-zero should somebody accidentally turn on their mp3 player at the wrong moment, are you sure that it deserves an airworthiness certificate?


*I was going to say "turns on their Walkman", but realized that doing so would mark me as an incipient geriatric.

48 comments:

Fred said...

Yesterday as we sat on the taxi-way, I was reminded of one of the advantages of a paper book over my Kindle.

Bubblehead Les. said...

On a related note though, isn't there something going on with some of Airbuses where all their Electronics decide to work the same hours an a Parisian Trade Unionist? You know, 1 hour working, 5 hours on Lunch Break?

NAVIGATOR said...

LORAN - A HAS GONE AWAY!

LORAN - C ITS DAYS ARE NUMBERED

SOMEONE TELL FRIENDLY AUNTIE ALICE !

Woodman said...

My Kindle has a leather cover, I just kept reading it after turning off the wi-fi.

I don't remember crashing.

Also, as a side note. My coworker has a discman and I say a genuine walkman for sale at a yard sale last week, still in the box.

taylor said...

I always thought it was a control thing. You know...its harder to set off that device with a remote control if you can get called out for holding anything that looks electronicky.

Charles Pergiel said...

"mark me as an incipient geriatric." Hey! I resemble that remark!

Tam said...

taylor,

Plausible, but I believe it predates SecurityMania by a long time.

bluesun said...

Considering my uncle use uses his iPad loaded with maps as his main navigation device when he flies his plane...

Anonymous said...

I've had a pilot friend (Embraers at the time) call me when he was flying over Albuquerque I say hello--from the right seat.

Joseph said...

Just wait until you have a Chicago day trader on your left and a 20 something Kardashian wanabee on your right the whole trip yammering on their phones.

Hell, it's already so bad that phones are out and on sooner than the tire smoke settles.

Silly, nonsensical bans don't seem so bad considering the alternative.

RWC said...

OT - but good morning...please wake me when the nightmare is over...

http://www.1011now.com/home/headlines/Grand-Island-Preschooler-Forbidden-Sign-Language-for-His-Own-Name-167394325.html

The 3 year old deaf child's name, when signed, resembles a gun. Solution - change his name. ferfuxsakes.

Freiheit said...

Everyone seems to overlook the fact that the electronic devices should be turned of for other reasons:
- there are somewhat important cabin instructions being given. Airlines are legally required to present those and make an effort to get you to listen
- most problems happen around takeoff and landing, you should be paying attention
- your devices will suck battery when they cant find signal, there will be complaints about phones with no charge after relatively short flights. Not the FAA or airlines problems, but one cannot fix stupid

Its good that the FAA is looking at this, but lets not lose sight of the real problems with air travel - The TSA.

LCB said...

Mythbusters did an episode on this. With OLD cellphones and some analog instruments in very close proximity to each other, they noticed a very tiny fluctuation. Modern stuff...nada.

That's if I'm remembering the show correctly.

I also remember when hospitals went nuts if you used a cell phone. Then I noticed all of the doctors and nurses using them...to talk to each other from across the hall way. My how times have changed.

Tam said...

Freiheit,

"Everyone seems to overlook the fact that the electronic devices should be turned of for other reasons:
- there are somewhat important cabin instructions being given. Airlines are legally required to present those and make an effort to get you to listen
"

Preventing someone from reading on their Kindle or listening to their iPod anywhere under 10,000 feet because some other moron might not listen to the safety announcements is like preventing someone from carrying a gun because some other moron might have an ND.

Morons gonna moron; don't penalize the smart people because of it.

Armed Texan said...

If there were truly a problem then they would require us to put our electronics in checked baggage and confiscate any found at the TSA check points. If there were truly a problem then every flight I have been on should have crashed or had a serious malfunction because I guarantee that someone had left there electronics on each and every flight. And some percentage of flights much greater than zero has someone who left their phone microwave transceiver on.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand a/c builders do some astonishing stupid things sometimes tying in the cabin gewgaws to mission critical apps up front.

Case in point was one iteration of the the stupid dynamic map that shows everyone where they are onthe back of the seat display.

I'm no genius, but I'd think that the computer in charge of "where we are" could send a friggin TEXT file every 30 secs to the "show the rubes where we are" computer and that would be fine, rather than have them live linked and open up a potentially exploitable path.

Blackwing1 said...

I was on a flight back in the dim-and-distant past (late 1990's?) when the guy next to me (from my company) was working on his laptop. We quickly noticed something EXTREMELY peculiar when he'd use his little red mouse-button build into the keyboard...the plane would minutely bank.

We ended up playing with it a little bit...mouse over to the left, plane banks left. Mouse over to the right, plane banks right. We initially thought it was just coincidence, but experimenting clearly showed not just correlation, but causation.

Flight engineer (or co-pilot, I didn't ask) eventually came through the cabin, looking around. He spotted the laptop, and asked us if we were using it. We explained what was happening; he gave it a try, and just about freaked out. He asked us to please TURN IT OFF, and not turn it back on until we were off the plane.

So I can definitely state that, at least back then, "consumer electronics" in the form of a Compaq laptop could DEFINITELY affect the flight controls.

Chas Clifton said...

Joseph said it. I can't wait until I'm stuck in the middle seat between two fat people . . . yakking on cell phones.

At least some trains have (theoretically) quiet cars.

Tam said...

Chas Clifton,

"Joseph said it. I can't wait until I'm stuck in the middle seat between two fat people . . . yakking on cell phones.

At least some trains have (theoretically) quiet cars.
"

As the article pointed out (ahem), in-flight cell phones are a separate matter: That's the FCC, not the FAA. This issue has nothing to do with those oh-so-unpleasant-that-they're-barely-human-so-it's-okay-to-treat-them-like-the-N-word-in-polite-society-today "fat people" who may or may not talk on cell phones.

If you, like me, would patronize a quiet flight, then the trick is to patronize the airline that offers the quiet planes*, not to game the government into forcing everybody to be quiet at lawpoint.


*I swear: The first airline to offer "Adults Only" Flights will get my business forever more... (Too bead they'd get sued into status quo ante by parents of screaming curtain climbers.)

rickn8or said...

"Morons gonna moron; don't penalize the smart people because of it."

Yabbut even utilizing the presence/absence of pants at half mast, face piercings and neck tattoos, it's getting harder and to tell the moh-rons from smart people.

Well, at least until they begin speaking.

And speaking of speaking, we've got a choice: yakking on their cells to some other victim or telling you ALL ABOUT Jee-zus.

Anonymous said...

Adults Only flights would be a hit. Maybe they could institute a passable second-best option by making the business classes Adult Only (as I assume they aren't already). Or, barring that, they could simply limit the kiddies to the back 1/3 of the plane under the guise of "added safety".

(Hey, I've been told the back 1/3 is the safest place in the event of a crash. Don't know how true it is, but I'll accept hearsay for this case.)

Caleb said...

Many airlines offer what are functionally "adult only" sections. It's called 1st class, and it is worth every single penny.

Kristopher said...

They have reasons for this, but not ones they will talk about.

It ain't RFI issues.

GPS devices can be used by terrorists to determine an aircraft's current position.

Using a cellphone in the air causes immediate network overloads as every single tower in line of sight tries to handle the phone call.

During a flight from Bangkok to Seoul I watched one Filipino gentleman's phone stop working ... he made a cellphone call from an airliner when he got bars as the plane passed Japan ... and the local Japanese cellphone companies hit him with a +1500 minute charge as all of the towers tried to complete his call simultaneously.

Argonel said...

Considering that some devices are allowed already the rationale looks weak. After all how much RF hash does an electric razor kick out.

Tam said...

Kristopher,

If you had read the article, you would realize that this does not have anything to do with cell phone usage. That, as you pointed out, is the FCC.

And these regulations predate commercial use of GPS, so that terrorist angle's malarky, just like the people who claim the ban on hunting deer with rifles in Indiana is because "the bullet will travel too far and hit a school!" Oh, really? Then I guess a .270 turns into pixie dust when it hits a coyote or a squirrel, 'cause that's perfectly legal in this state...

Kristopher said...

NAVAGATOR:

I got to play that stupid game while learning to fly.

The instructor did the "OK, your VOR reciever has stopped working. How do you find the airport?" game.

I pulled a GPS out of my bag. He said ... "OK, the batteries are dead".

I pulled a blister pack of fresh batteries out of the bag.

He said: "OK, your instructor took the GPS from you and threw it out the window, now what?"

I resisted the urge to say "Make an emergency landing in a field and have the police haul the crazy instructor off for observation", tuned the radio DF to an AM station with a tower next to the airport, and listened to talk radio as I flew home on that beam.

Kristopher said...

Tam: Security Kabuki does not have to make sense. A terrorist can use a pocket watch sized GPS. This won't stop regulation.


And yes, you already mentioned the FCC in prior comments, sorry.

Kristopher said...

And I remmeber my first walkman ... it was an honest to god Sony, and played cassette tapes.

Stranger said...

Tube testers do not radiate, and most do not "test" tubes. A battery operated razor puts out enough hash to wipe out short wave reception to 21 megacycles, the 15 meter band. Whether or not CD players and games radiate is an open question.

And analog cell phones will make the flight controls on some aircraft decide to reset themselves in flight. You really do not want the stabilizer to wander at will in flight. Or the trim tabs, for that matter.

Aircraft radio antennas are not efficient - but the unshielded wiring makes up for it. Even the relatively low power signal from a cell phone, rectified by some solid state device on one end or the other of that wire, can raise old hob with aircraft electronics.

Best listen to the young lady when she tells you to hit the OFF switch.

Stranger

Chas Clifton said...

Tam, you're right about the cell phones. Sorry.

NotClauswitz said...

Back in '81 I got an FM Walkman as a Christmas bonus (model srf-40w). I flew back to the West Coast from DC and listened to music all they way. From 35,000 feet up (or whatever) - you could pick up the radio... AND even then they were saying, "Don't Do This!"

Cheesy said...

They don't want us screwing with their drones.

Old NFO said...

It's actually about navigation... Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) transmit localizers in the 108-111.95MHz range at 25watts, and glideslope indicators at 5 watts. There are 'offset' antenna transmissions at 90Hz and 150Hz modulation for both vertical and horizontal positioning. The ILS and VOR normally 'share' the lower antenna on the forward fuselage (just about under first class seats). The average cell transmits 500mW of signal in the 700-900MHz and 1200 and 1900 MHz ranges. A fact is that they often 'leak' broad band power, and when you add up all those cell phone, there is enough power (e.g. 50 phones = 25W) to potentially cause the ILS system to not function correctly, or to erronously indicate one is left/right or low/high on the approach. This was a 'possibly' contributing factor in Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's death in Croatia as they were 9 degress off on the approach and did not go around.

bob r said...

I suggest perusing this thread at Joe Huffman's blog. A few plausible reasons are presented.

Kristopher said...

Old NFO: But that was back in the analog cellphone days.

Different breed of cat there.

Anonymous said...

Ron Brown's plane was on an approach with 2 NDBs. No ILS involved.

Able said...

Ah yes, we still have almost all electronics banned in the hospitals here for supposedly similar reasons.

Was involved in a study years ago to examine the effects, primarily in cardiology (ECG and pacemakers were supposedly being effected).

Months of tests - results Nil effect. We did think we'd found the searched for effect when our spiffy new 24-lead ECG went haywire (simulating a second degree heart-block, if you're interested, on a healthy individual). The culprit? The hospital issued walkie-talkies that the porters/security/management used?!?

I don't know about the original reasons but currently (and for the last 15 years) it's just bureaucratic inertia (stupidity? repeating myself).

Oh, the one piece of equipment we did find that needed a gadget ban? The MRI! Although watching the befuddled looks on 'customers' faces when their phones, laptops, etc. don't work afterwards is kinda fun.

Able said...

Oh forgot. The other effect was on small syringe drivers (like those used for ambulatory opiate analgesia for cancer patients). Mobile phones had zero effect, but the hospital radios managed to either slow or, in one case speed up the pump if placed directly next to the pump.

All that was started because one patient managed to speed his pump by placing it on the stereo speakers (after trying to break into it and around the ward for something to help him). Solution? Information for professional prescriber's and patients (and one male patient permanently transferred to fentanyl patches - wonder how long till he tries eating it).

Spud said...

Getting people to comply with this is no different than getting them to comply with gun laws.

Only the compliant will...

Tam said...

Old NFO,

As noted* this does not involve cell phones. The FAA is talking here about "portable electronic devices": To wit, mp3 players, e readers, laptops, et al.


*several times above, she said, tearing at her hair...

fillyjonk said...

The issue with the "morons should be allowed to moron"....what if someone twice my size is standing in front of me in the escape row, and not sure what to do, and I can't get out? I'd rather the people on the deathtrap, er, plane with me have at least some working knowledge of how to save their own butts, because that may mean I have a better shot at saving MINE.

I don't fly, though. Probably won't ever again unless it's an emergency. Too claustrophobic. And if they DO allow the self-involved to yammer endlessly on cell phones: Mr. Sartre? I have a new depiction of Hell for you.

Geodkyt said...

I work in E3 (Electromagnetic Environmental Effects), specifically integrating systems so that they don't interfere with each other in very crowded installations. Some really weird interactions can occur between two pieces of kit you’d swear wouldn’t interact – which is why MIL-STD461E and MIL-STD-1605 are so picky. Luckily, nowadays, we can fairly accurately predict a lot of EMI/EMC issues computationally, but ultimately we don’t “know” until we actually survey. And that’s on big-assed boats, made out of lots of nice, heavy, RF-shielding steel.

Airplanes are worse than ships in that regard, because they have worse shielding – cable runs are often routed right through the passenger area with no more shielding than the cables’ own insulation.

What FAA is worried about is that they cannot test every single possible combination of portable devices against every single possible combination of equipment and airframe, and passenger safety is at risk.

In my professional opinion, they are being overly paranoid and autistically OCD, at a level as high as if Hyman Rickover had been in charge of safety and hygiene at Woodstock.

However, I sure know I wouldn’t want to be the FCC E3 engineer who is testifying before Congress, “Well Senator, it was just another cheap MP3 player gadget from China, we figured it would be just like any other small electronic device and be perfectly safe. How were we to know that it put out interference in exactly the bandwidth so as to interfere with the navigation system reliability by causing interference in the flight control system that Econo-Air picked up cheap from Malaysia and installed into their Chinese-refurbished surplus Anatov? I’m sorry 150 passengers died when the altimeter told the pilots the runway was another 100 feet down, but how could we know that combination would occur?!?”

Kristopher said...

You might have a point there, Geodkyt.

Trusting the Chinese to build something within FCC RFI specs may be asking for too much.

Hell, they even cheat on capacitors, hiding small capacitors inside of deliberately miss-marked large capacitor cans, instead of using the required large capacitors.

Justthisguy said...

The bestest, most fun, and most comfortable airline flight I ever had was aboard a Delta Convair 880. I think it was back in the late sixties or early seventies.

I boarded the plane in Miami and deplaned about an hour later in Atlanta. The airplane was mostly empty, so I got to have some good conversation with the stewardess, and lotsa snacks.

Also, the seats lined up with the windows.

Douglas2 said...

I've a variety of PED's that I've acquired as "broken" for very little money and then repaired.

Even the white smartphone has a (non-implemented) FM radio tuner in it.

I'm sure that I got all that mumetal foil back where it belongs when I reassembled it -- at least I don't remember having any left over...

Anyway, I am certain that the local oscillator is creating any unintentional radiation at 108-111.95MHz. Not that I have the means to test that mind you...

Old NFO said...

Tam, unnderstood, however pretty much ANYTHING that can connect wirelessly (laptops, e-readers, etc.) does broadcast, and does have the potential for causing what I described. Geodkyt is right re the milspec, and we have seen a 'number' of brand new laptops fail EMI for bad shielding. And they DO put a wideband 'hash' like white noise out. I can't find the 'specific' incident report, but I know there was at least one case in an Airbus 310 where both navigation and control inputs problems were attributed to a newly repaired laptop that was in use in first class. The 10,000 foot rule is so that 'hopefully' the pilots can recover the airplane is things go totally South!

Geodkyt said...

Old NFO --

Now, if 100% of consumer products were built TEMPEST compliant, we could probably just say, "Meh."

Whaddya want to bet on The Price Is Right for the MSRP on a TEMPEST tablet?!?

David B. said...

There was a story told in an electronic magazine a few years ago. Planes were flying and they relied on ground navigation beacons. Then, one day, one beacon disappeared. FAA checked the beacon and registered as working fine. But planes could not detect it. FCC was called in. It was found to be a supermarket scanner, which were new technology at that time.

In the early days of Apple/Macintosh they would make those computers play music through radios by putting the radio near the computer and running subroutines in the computer.

If a device malfunctions, it can cause problems in a surrounding devices. Yes, the currents and power are small. But when you understand that much of the air industry technology was designed in the 1950's. And yes there have been upgrades, but it is still designed with 50's tech that is the baseline that does not reflect the use of 1 gigahertz and above technology. The answer migrates to "We don't know the risk involved".