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Could your cell phone cause a plane crash?
If you’re like most occasional or even frequent fliers, you probably don’t take seriously those warnings about shutting off cell phones. But perhaps you should – based on a new report.
“We found that the risk posed by these portable devices is higher than previously believed,” said Bill Strauss, who conducted a study with other researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.
No one is yet to blame any specific air crash on cell phones but some call the report by the International Transport Association “alarming” or a “wake up call.”
There’s been a proliferation of electronic devices on the market, with passengers becoming more inclined to ignore airline cell phone warnings. Even by accident, phones are often left on despite warnings.
Boeing engineer David Carson says interference occurs when signals hit highly sensitive electronic sensors hidden in the passenger area.
Older planes are particularly vulnerable to cell phone interference. Combine that with a growing number of electronic devices and there’s a possible “perfect storm” of future airplane crashes.
The Federal Communications Commission’s regulation banning cell-phone use on airplanes has been in place since 1991. Several recent studies show, however, that passengers are not taking the rule seriously.
The new study shows a whole range of in-flight incidents directly attributed to interference from a mobile signal.
The report was put together by the International Air Transport Association and apparently first put out by ABC News. It puts as many as 75 incidents reported by planes in recent years as the direct result of interference from an electronic device. Mobile phones were the No. 1 culprit.
The report covers the years 2003 to 2009 and is based on survey responses from 125 airlines that account for a quarter of the world’s air traffic.
The shut-off cell phone announcements are often ignored by many frequent fliers, who are skeptical that so-called “personal electronic devices” pose any safety threat to airplanes. Some passengers openly rebel, like New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who cursed out one flight attendant who demanded he turn off his cell phone.
According to ABC, “Just one cell phone could cause serious issues.”
Previous studies have shown that there is no real evidence of accidents caused by cellphones but that using them in flight can be more dangerous than was understood before.
“We can’t say categorically that these devices cause interference,” said IATA spokesman Chris Goater. “But there are enough anecdotal reports from pilots to raise the question.”
While the ABC feature wasn’t able to present proof that the incidents were without any doubt the result of mobile interference, Boeing spokesperson Dave Carson nonetheless claims that all it takes is a mobile signal “in the right place and at the right time” to potentially lead to disaster” – the perfect storm.
“There are frightening statistics revealed in the report, which logged 26 of the incidents affected the flight controls, including the autopilot, and landing gear,” said The Christian Post.
That study also revealed cell phones and other portable electronic devices, like laptops and game-playing devices, can pose dangers to the normal operation of critical electronics on airplanes.
Finding that direct link between airline navigation systems and mobile phones may take a while, researchers said
Incidents cited in the study include the navigational equipment of a Boeing 737 in the US failed after takeoff, only to reactivate after a passenger was told to turn off a sat-nav.
David Carson, an engineer with Boeing, stressed that problems do not occur in every case.
‘And that’s good,’ he said.
Phone interference was also cited as a possible factor in a 2003 crash in New Zealand in which eight people died after the plane flew into the ground short of the runway.
The pilot had been calling home.
By David Wilkening
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