Print 38 comment(s) - last by Warwulf.. on Dec 29 at 5:42 AM

According to researchers at EMT Labs, tablets and e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle do not pose much of a threat at all

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has banned airplane passengers' use of mobile electronics like iPads and Kindles during takeoff and landing due to interference, but recent results from EMT Labs challenge this ban and further raise the question, "Why not?"

Earlier this month, it was discovered that the FAA decided to allow American Airlines pilots to use iPads instead of paper flight manuals in the cockpit. This raised a few eyebrows, since passengers are banned from using such electronic devices during takeoff and landing due to possible interference with sensitive airplane electronics.

Many wondered how the iPads would affect these important electronics when used so closely to such equipment, but the FAA justified the decision after conducting a test of the use of mobile electronics in the cockpit. It also said that having one iPad per pilot versus an iPad or Kindle for every passenger made a big difference in the level of interference.

However, The New York Times now disagrees with the FAA's reasoning after taking a trip to EMT Labs, which is an independent testing facility in California that screens the electrical emissions from different gadgets.

According to researchers at EMT Labs, tablets and e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle do not pose much of a threat at all. The FAA has specified that a plane is only approved as safe if it can withstand up to 100 volts per meter of electrical interference; EMT Labs says an Amazon e-reader emits under 30 microvolts per meter when in use, which is 0.00003 of a volt.

"The power coming off a Kindle is completely miniscule and can't do anything to interfere with a plane," said Jay Gandhi, chief executive of EMT Labs. "It's so low that it just isn't sending out any real interference."

In addition, the FAA is apparently wrong when it comes to the "two tablets versus many" theory. EMT Labs argued that electromagnetic energy doesn't add up as more e-readers are used on the plane; rather, the "noise" from such gadgets decreases as more are used.

The FAA does allow gadgets such as voice recorders to be used during takeoff and landing, but as it turns out, a Sony voice recorder emits more electrical interference than a Kindle.

According to Bill Ruck, CSI Telecommunications' lead engineer, the FAA only bans tablets and e-readers during takeoff and landing because of "agency inertia and paranoia."

While the EMT Labs tests didn't provide specific results concerning iPads instead of e-readers, which are the devices in question regarding use in the cockpit during takeoff and landing, this is a solid first step in finding out why the FAA is really banning these gadgets.

Source: The New York Times

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Better safe than sorry
By franciumgoesboom on 12/27/11, Rating: 0
RE: Better safe than sorry
By Gondor on 12/27/2011 10:00:40 AM , Rating: 2
There is a slight chance that you not using e-reader during take-ioff or landing will cause universe to spawn giant pink elephant right in the path of your airplane, resulting in a fatal collision (both for people onboard and the giant pink elephant).

So how do you intend to err next time when taking a flight ?

RE: Better safe than sorry
By Urbanmech on 12/27/2011 10:06:34 AM , Rating: 5
There is no "slight chance", there is no chance at all that using a iPad, Kindle, or having your phone on will cause any problems.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By fic2 on 12/27/2011 10:21:18 AM , Rating: 2
How about using a Chinese knock-off of an iPad? Any chance there? How about a netbook? Laptop? Taser?

RE: Better safe than sorry
By Dorkyman on 12/27/2011 10:45:14 AM , Rating: 4
That's right, we can't do ANYTHING because there is always that teeny-tiny chance that something might possibly interfere.

Life is about living with risk. You could be hit by a truck today. A meteorite could split your skull. A crocodile could be around that next corner and cut you to shreds.

But all these things are exceedingly remote. Same with "interference" on modern aircraft.

Then why the strict prohibition? Because of inertia and a "we say so" attitude within the FAA.

I never turn my phone off on a plane and I suspect a large percentage of others don't, either. It's just not an issue, as numerous studies have shown over the years.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By Natch on 12/27/2011 11:57:03 AM , Rating: 5
Truth: An iPad, Kindle, netbook or pretty much any other device is simply not going to put out much energy. Wi-fi, bluetooth, maybe a cell phone signal.

Truth: Take off and landing is the most dangerous part of any flight, as the aircraft is configured to fly low and slow, and your chances of recovery, if something goes wrong, are pretty slim.

Truth: The FAA will simply take the attitude of, "We're the government, and we said NO!!" End of story.

Bitching about it is an American freedom, but at the end of the day, whatever the FAA decides, right or wrong, is what we're stuck with.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By mchentz on 12/27/2011 9:27:21 PM , Rating: 2
How about any of these units using 3G that is built in to some models?

RE: Better safe than sorry
By drycrust3 on 12/28/2011 2:26:44 PM , Rating: 2
Truth: An iPad uses a Broadcom BCM4329 chip to manage its WiFi, Bluetooth, and FM radio TRANSMISSION and RECEPTION!
Even if we ignored the FM radio transmission capability, the receiving part of the chip could easily use a Superhetrodyne process to demodulate the received commercial FM radio station, and that process requires the chip to generate frequencies within the commercial aviation aircraft band.
That means there is a theoretical possibility that a passenger, like yourself, who, against all rules, is "innocently" listening to an FM radio station, is hindering the reception of the transmissions between the control tower and the pilot. We need Apple or Broadcom to tell us whether that possibility is real or not, and if they can't or won't, then the ban should stay until they can.
So what is the difference between a pilot using an iPad and a passenger using one? If the pilot is using an iPad, and it happens to be causing interference because he WAS listening to a local radio station with it, then (assuming he or she is aware an iPad could cause interference) all he needs to do is close down that application and the problem is solved. In addition, if the airline provided the iPads then they should have removed the FM radio application prior to issuing it to the pilot, and told her or him the reasons why.
On the other hand, trying to find which of the 30 or so tablet users on the plane is the cause of interference is quite another matter.
As such, if the WiFi chip in a tablet could cause a problem, then to be fair to all passengers and aircrew (who aren't expected to be trained on the inner workings of every tablet on the market), it is a whole lot easier and fairer to have a blanket ban that covers all tablets rather than having long lists of brands and models, some of which are banned and some which aren't.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By augiem on 12/27/2011 2:02:20 PM , Rating: 1
The fact that you impose your beliefs on the other 100+ passengers and choose to place that risk on their lives, however small, shows a whole lot about you as a person. You choose to say YOU are single handedly capable of determining what is or isn't safe and acceptable for everyone on board, nevermind you likely know nothing about aircraft electronics, how to fly a plane, or even how to begin the process of testing for interference. I'm sorry, that's just plain selfish and wreckless. You don't like the rules, don't fly. Plain and simple. Flying is already risky enough without people like you trying to stick it to "the man".

RE: Better safe than sorry
By V-Money on 12/27/2011 2:15:05 PM , Rating: 3
I think the bigger issue is the failure of the FAA to simply test it. All supporting evidence seems to indicate that it wouldn't have any drastic (or any) effect on a flight, and if they did a test and found out otherwise, there would be no argument. It reminds me of going to the gas station and seeing the "Do not use your cell phone while fueling" stickers, when there is no evidence supporting that cell phones cause explosions.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By e36Jeff on 12/27/2011 5:20:28 PM , Rating: 2
So you want the FAA to piss away millions of your tax dollars to study the interaction of any mobile eletronic device in exestince with any commerical airplane in every possible configuration? I'd be shocked if you could fund that study for anything under $50 million dollars(and thats before the inevitable pork). Its a hell of a lot cheaper to just say 'dont use them during the most dangerous part of the flight.' And quite frankly, if you cant go 10 min without your phone, you need to get a life. I'm perfectly happy with just turning off my electronics for 10 min than to have a crap load of my tax money spent on a study to allow us to to use them for those 10 min.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By foolsgambit11 on 12/27/2011 7:26:44 PM , Rating: 2
There's no point in the FAA testing each and every product for interference. Flight attendants aren't going to be trained to distinguish a Kindle from a cheap (let's say) local Chinese tablet that doesn't need to pass American regulations. The FAA can't safely or efficiently implement a white-list policy for electronic devices, so all must be restricted.

Besides, even when devices do pass muster, damage or defects can cause unexpected issues. Or how about that cell phone that turned a guy's oven on?

RE: Better safe than sorry
By Reclaimer77 on 12/27/2011 8:27:08 PM , Rating: 2
There's never been a SINGLE documented incident because of EMI. I think if there was a real risk something would have happened by now.

So please, go away with that crap. Nobody's life is being put at risk because someone fired up an E-reader or whatever.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By jconan on 12/27/2011 2:08:50 PM , Rating: 2
Cept that they're all made in China including the iPad. Even some people eschew the iPad over any android.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By MrBlastman on 12/27/2011 10:46:58 AM , Rating: 2
Exactly. People need to get a grip on their lives. Those ten minutes at both ends of the flight do not mean the end of the world for them. They can part with their electronics for a short time and everything will be just fine.

I'm perfectly aware of the data and testing that has been done on this issue. The thing is, until the FAA changes their policy, people need to suck it up and deal with it. It's not like being forced to sit and think for a few minutes at a time is a bad thing.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By Stuka on 12/27/2011 12:50:28 PM , Rating: 3
You don't understand the need to debate things do you? Everyone is always honest and correct and their is no need to discuss anything?

By the logic you put forth, they shouldn't be on the plane AT ALL. There's no reason a person can't go 2hrs without their electronics, right?

If there is this slight chance of interference at 100ft, there is the exact same chance of interference at 10000ft. If there is ANY chance of interrupting a critical system, I don't want it on MY plane at any altitude. The idea that something is safer the higher you are in the air is absurd. I don't NEED my Kindle at takeoff, but telling me it might kill everyone for no reason is silly and I don't care for misinformation.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By augiem on 12/27/2011 2:11:01 PM , Rating: 2
Even if they let you leave it on, how do you expect to be able to use your precious iPad on takeoff/landing when they make you stow away everything under the seat? The argument is just plain silly! They don't want any objects flying around the cabin that can hit someone if something goes wrong.

RE: Better safe than sorry
By MrBlastman on 12/27/2011 4:22:29 PM , Rating: 2
You don't understand the need to debate things do you? Everyone is always honest and correct and their is no need to discuss anything?

What the heck does my reply have to do at all with not understanding the need to debate things? Seriously, I love how you infer that from my post.

Here's a hint: Like it or not, my post was an opinion. As such, it implies that due to it being just that, it is subject to debate.

By the logic you put forth, they shouldn't be on the plane AT ALL. There's no reason a person can't go 2hrs without their electronics, right?

What logic was that? I didn't say anything that could have lead to your forming that thought. How do:

Those ten minutes at both ends of the flight do not mean the end of the world for them.


I'm perfectly aware of the data and testing that has been done on this issue. The thing is, until the FAA changes their policy

... promote a logical pathway that concludes that they shouldn't be on the plane at all.

I guess you need to read it again. Your comprehension is slacking here. I did state that I'm aware of the data from testing, right? You're aware of that data too, right? If you aren't, I'll summarize--the majority of testing to date on the issue indicates there is a very minimal risk, if any at all to the aircraft.

So, how on earth do you think I logically suggested we remove electronics from the full flight? I don't see it.

I did get a chuckle out of this, though when you said:

The idea that something is safer the higher you are in the air is absurd.

You're being sarcastic, right? I think you are, at least... I hope. There's a big difference from being 30,000 feet up in the air and 50 feet. It all revolves around the fundamental kinematics of flight and the simplicity between altitude equating to potential energy (a battery). When you have little altitude, you have little in the battery, thus, are far more at risk and less likely to correct from an error or a problem. For brevity's sake, I'll leave it at that and continue to assume you were being sarcastic. :)

RE: Better safe than sorry
By tamalero on 12/28/2011 12:09:49 AM , Rating: 2
Pretty sure that if you're flying at 10,000 ft.. You can review, analyze and discard wrong displayed data in your electronics..
while if you're landing or specially.. take off..
you have almost NO CHANCE to recover.

How can you trust a company that states...
By HoosierEngineer5 on 12/27/2011 12:37:00 PM , Rating: 3
"electromagnetic energy doesn't add up as more e-readers are used on the plane; rather, the "noise" from such gadgets decreases as more are used."

This is totally inaccurate. Electromagnetic energy adds up as the vector sum of all the emitters. Also, who's to say (without testing and certification) that a particular device does not emit detectable amounts of energy. Remember, the clock frequency of many of these devices is much higher than the operating frequencies of many radio receivers. Depending on what the device is doing, measurable RF energy can be emitted from the very high speed switching signals. Even lower frequency signals can radiate at harmonic frequencies, especially if the signal edges have high slew rates, and if the signal is not properly terminated in the line's characteristic impedance.

The easiest way to build an amplifier is to design an oscillator. The easiest way to build an oscillator is design an amplifier. How do you know every device anybody carries on a plan will not radiate at the frequency of the aircraft communications gear?

RE: How can you trust a company that states...
By Gondor on 12/27/2011 3:46:45 PM , Rating: 3
This is totally inaccurate. Electromagnetic energy adds up as the vector sum of all the emitters.

This is not "totally inaccurate". Given sufficient number of emitters you will inevitably get some out-of-phase signals that cancel each other out so there is no way N phones, each generating M amount of RF noise, would generate N * M noise combined.

Remember, the clock frequency of many of these devices is much higher than the operating frequencies of many radio receivers. ...

Which affects airplane electronics ... how ? If it was the other way around (airplane navigation etc. working on higher frequencies where harmonics of lower frequency signal could disrupt their operation) your argument would make sense, but it's not. Plus the amount of energy radiated as harmonics of base frequency is significantly smaller.

As people have pointed out above your post: if RF interference from consumer electronics could bring an airplane down we would be having shitload of crashes every day because PEOPLE ARE LAZY and simply leave their hadhets on (or in normal operation mode even though the devicemight have "flight mode" switch capability) even when told not to. And yeah, terrorists would be all over this as well, not even sending their people aborad but simply mailing active cellphones from one place to another ...

No need to spread FUD.

RE: How can you trust a company that states...
By tamalero on 12/28/2011 12:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
The problem still seems to rely on "chance" or probability, rather than plain black and white answers.

even if its not "totally inaccurate"
what is the change they signals will cancel each other?
probably the same probability and chance than getting increased?
in short, both can happen randomly?
anyway pretty sure it doesn't matter how much times you get the cancellation or not.. if you get the spikes that might affect avionics.. you STILL GET YOUR ELECTRONICS AFFECTED.

And you seem to exaggerate the whole thing..
some people might talk about taking down planes, but pretty sure they mention incorrect data that might affect how the pilots receive and process said data.
the crash of air France, where the on-board computer was giving incorrect and conflicting data would be a fine example.
The pilots didn't know what the hell was going on, and the sum of the incorrect data, with the bad choices of the pilots made the whole plane crash.

Remember most accidents are always the sum of a lot of small errors, mistakes and problems.. that keep piling on each other.. going above each protection and security procedure.
While you're going to the extreme to say "its silly" because no signal can take down a plane.. it might start the line of events that concludes in a crash (again, similar to that airfrance flight)

By Warwulf on 12/29/2011 5:38:41 AM , Rating: 2
Except that the faulty data was a result of poorly designed pitot tubes and not from consumer electronics.

Nice try reaching for a parallel example. "A" for effort.

By Warwulf on 12/29/2011 5:42:46 AM , Rating: 2
A better example would have been the uncommanded nose down pitch changes as a result of random variation in the inertial sensor which happened coincidentally at 1.2 seconds apart. This was onboard a Qantas A380, by the way.

And consumer electronics were not blamed. Software changes were undertaken on all A380 flight computers to prevent recurrence.

Couple Points
By dethrophes on 12/27/2011 1:54:01 PM , Rating: 2
I have been stopped reading a book during take off and landing. Excuse given was in case something happened...

They used/maybe still do ban use of electric razors during flight because of interference fears.

Most flights fly with many phones on. always have. ppl forget or don't care.

Planes electronics are shielded, can withstand lightning strikes.

How silly would it be if a terrorist could bring down a plane just by turning on a phone during a flight.

RE: Couple Points
By sviola on 12/27/2011 2:15:32 PM , Rating: 2
How silly would it be if a terrorist could bring down a plane just by turning on a phone during a flight.

hey, don't give the TSA more ideas...

RE: Couple Points
By dethrophes on 12/27/2011 2:54:38 PM , Rating: 2
Most of the safety measures are only about as effective as a child safety blanket.
They give participants a feeling of safety without providing any real security.

Humans are humans so you can assume all flights fly with phones on.
Furthermore if their was a real risk they would have rf detectors to make sure their were no phones turned on.

Sadly this illusion of security also extends to airport security. Most safety measure only really give the passengers a sense of security.

How about Wi-Fi?
By plu1357 on 12/27/2011 10:32:29 AM , Rating: 2
Now a days, most of e-readers have built-in Wi-Fi. Did the EMT lab evaluate the emission with or without Wi-Fi? It's a common knowledge that ALL electronic devices emits EM interference, but Wi-Fi is a different scenario. If Wi-Fi do pose a threat for safety, it's hard to ensure e-reader on with Wi-Fi off. Another thought, why not implement a detection device to measure ALL EM interference during take off and landing? If over limit, flight attendants can request passengers to cooperate. Otherwise, everyone is a happy camper. I think a simple device for $100 or less should do the job.

RE: How about Wi-Fi?
By Gondor on 12/27/2011 4:03:06 PM , Rating: 2
There are devices which transmit at higher power only from time to time, not always (think of cell phones for example).

*IF* RF interference from gadgets could harm the airplane electronics you idea wouldn't work because there is no way of knowing whether meter reads "safe" because everyone has their phone turned off or simply because noone has made a call in that very moment = this could change just one second later ... or in the middle of take-off/landing.

Oh and there's a big IF up there ;-)

I don't care...
By aliasfox on 12/27/2011 1:28:47 PM , Rating: 2
really, whether it's an inconvenience or not, but I do care if the plane's electronics are so fragile that me listening to my iPod in row 34 has any effect whatsoever on electronics in the cockpit.

Do you want to be sitting six miles off the ground traveling at 600 mph in a *hitbox that can't deal with Angry Birds, let alone any errant radiation coming through the atmosphere? I sure don't. And if a plane can handle all the other signals/EM/radiation that it's hit with, it can deal with a few dozen ultra-low power portables.

And in case anybody hasn't traveled on foreign aircraft in foreign lands, many places don't have rules like these. They're bogus; fearmongering catering to the grandma from Kansas.

RE: I don't care...
By drycrust3 on 12/28/2011 1:19:53 AM , Rating: 2
but I do care if the plane's electronics are so fragile that me listening to my iPod in row 34 has any effect whatsoever on electronics in the cockpit.

Things like the radio and the radar and the radio altimeter need considerably more sensitivity to just function, and as such are also more susceptible to spurious transmissions that happen within the pass band of the filters.
For example, would you be concerned if your iPod just happened to be transmitting signals at the same frequency as used by the radio altimeter?

By Denithor on 12/27/2011 8:41:41 AM , Rating: 2 things don't have to make sense.

Just because you can prove it's not a problem doesn't have any real impact on them allowing these devices.

Oh, yeah, do you guys use any kind of spelling or grammar checks at all? Seriously...

What about other devices?
By tastyratz on 12/27/2011 9:51:51 AM , Rating: 2
So now that we know 100v is the limit, what about other consumer level devices? I wonder if an independent lab like this has other test data. If for example the kindle puts off minuscule emissions, but the highest known consumer level portable device puts out 1v emissions... then all this fuss is clearly over nothing.

100v sounds like a lot to me, so perhaps instead it is a scapegoat for alternative reasoning? The emissions do not stack so much cumulatively either just as much as 100 people whispering in a room will not get as loud as 1 person yelling.

Another issue
By ender707 on 12/27/2011 3:31:24 PM , Rating: 2
During Take-off and Landing, if something goes wrong with the plane (for a reason other than the obviously fictional interference from electronic devices) and there is an accident, anything not tied down becomes a projectile just like inside of any other vehicle.

I do not think it is a bad idea to stow devices during takeoff and landing, just not for the interference reason. For example, if the landing gear experiences a problem on the runway resulting in some sort of collision or abrupt contact with the ground due to failure (which does happen from time to time) I would rather not catch an ipad in the back of my skull.

Little people
By villageidiotintern on 12/27/2011 3:36:12 PM , Rating: 2
Rules and regulations are for you little people who have nothing to do but your jobs. Rules and regulations do not apply to important bigwigs like me and people like me who run this country. We have far too many important things to do, so we cannot allow all these small-people regulations to slow us down.

FM radio receivers.
By drycrust3 on 12/27/2011 3:38:14 PM , Rating: 2
it was discovered that the FAA decided to allow American Airlines pilots to use iPads instead of paper flight manuals in the cockpit.

As I understand it, the origin of the rule related to passengers wanting to listen to their transistor radio while in the aeroplane. If you consider that an FM radio uses an Intermediate Frequency of 10.7 MHz, and that the aircraft band of 108 - 137 MHz is right above the commercial FM radio band of 88 - 107 MHz then you can see straight away the could be some sort of interference problem.
Since an FM radio uses a 10.7 MHz Intermediate Frequency, that means a passengers FM radio has its own local oscillator running at 10.7 MHz above whatever they are wanting to listen to, and since the aircraft band has less than 10.7 MHz separation from the commercial radio station band, that means when a passenger's transistor radio is tuned to less than 10 MHz from the top end of the dial, they are actually transmitting a weak but detectable signal right inside the civil aviation aircraft band!
So the question is does a typical "tablet" e.g. an iPad or Kindle, have an FM receiver built into it, and would that use a local oscillator that operates within the aircraft band?
According to the Jaxov website, the iPad uses a Broadcom BCM4329 chip, which isn't just for WiFi and Bluetooth, it also has FM radio TRANSMITTING and receiving capabilities!
I haven't been able to find out what intermediate frequency the BCM4329 chip uses, but one could argue that in the absence of better advice, then it is better to believe the IF is 10.7 MHz, so iPads shouldn't be allowed to be used on planes, especially to listen to the radio during take off and landing.
According to the Blog Kindle website, the Kindle 4 uses the Atheros AR6103T-BM2D 26AR0620 chipset, which doesn't appear to have any FM radio transmitting or receiving capabilities.
In addition, the Kindle Fire doesn't list any FM capabilities on its FCC certification:
So one could argue, that a Kindle Fire could be used safely on a plane!
Also, one could argue that because pilots are even closer to their civil aviation aircraft band receivers than passengers, then they should be using a Kindle and not an an iPad for their aircraft manuals.

By ajcarroll on 12/28/2011 4:59:26 PM , Rating: 2
Before everyone jumps to the conclusion that portable electronic devices cannot possibly interfere with aircraft, it's worth reading an article published in IEEE Spectrum back in the late 90's. (Institute of Electrical Engineers magazine)

The article was based on a search of flight incidence reports submitted by flight crews to the ASRS database(Aviation Safety Reporting System) - basically the researchers search for keywords like "passenger electronics", "laptop" and turned up a bunch of reports submitted by flight crews of aircraft navigation systems being thrown off by the use of PEDs (Portable electronic devices).

Their conclusion is despite the assumption that the devices should be safe, (becuase the power is so low) there's empirical evidence that PEDs do indeed interfere with navigation systems. (ie. Pilots have reported commercial flights drifting off course).

The original article is archived, but this link has most of the text of the article.

Scroll down to "Do Portable Electronics Endanger Flight"

I can't vouch for that website - but the article is legit.

The conclusion back in the late 90's "electromagnetic emissions from the PEDs, which interfere with avionics systems, most commonly radio navigation and communications. Co-conspirators are the aluminium air-frame, which can act as a shield, a resonant cavity, or a phased array, and the sensitivities of the avionics. The radiation from the devices can couple to the avionics through the antennas, the wiring, or directly into the receiver."

So there are researchers out there who think the issue is real.

Let me get this straight...
By Beenthere on 12/27/11, Rating: -1
"I want people to see my movies in the best formats possible. For [Paramount] to deny people who have Blu-ray sucks!" -- Movie Director Michael Bay

Copyright 2014 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki