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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet 449

Posted by samzenpus
from the hands-off-the-tubes dept.
First time accepted submitter cathyreisenwitz writes "The New York Times' Bits blog has a great piece on the FAA's inconvenient, outdated and unhelpful rules regarding electronic devices on planes: 'Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager. The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.' The rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious."
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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet

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  • Wow (Score:5, Insightful)

    by avandesande (143899) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:16PM (#42434831) Journal
    Imagine if the avionics industry wasn't regulated?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yea. A glass cockpit for a private single engine plane would maybe cost as much as a high end PC with a really fancy touch display. Instead a Garmin G1000 adds over $50K to the price of a new airplane.
      • Re:Wow (Score:4, Funny)

        by SternisheFan (2529412) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:43PM (#42435143)
        And if I can't have Angry Birds on my iPad, then the pilots can't have flight maps on theirs!

        Oh, wait...

      • by jklovanc (1603149)

        When the plane crashes due to a vibration induced failure you will sing a different tune. Much of the cost of avionics is due to the necessity of making them much more robust than a desktop PC. If you PC glitches you just reboot. Try that on short final at night in the rain. The main factors that go into the high costs of avionics are as follows;
        1. Large design costs due to necessity of robustness.
        2. Large design costs due to the need for FAA certification.
        3. Large manufacturing costs to due small productio

    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Imagine if the avionics industry wasn't regulated?

      Regulate it and make millions. Outlaw it and make billions. Your call.
      Banking was deregulated and now we are in a state of want, the oil industry was deregulated and now we are in a constant state of war. Oh joy!

    • Then airline insurers would be driving the safety monitoring, instead of the government. I swear, it's like some people think that it has to be the government or nothing. Do you think pilots are going to get on board aircraft that are unsafe?

      Your local electrical code protects your house. Yet the appliances you plug into that system are almost never government-inspected. Who does it? Underwriters Laboratories.
    • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Faldgan (13738) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:29PM (#42436659) Homepage Journal

      There is a segment of the avionics industry that isn't regulated. Experimental aircraft. I speak (honestly I'm typing, but if you wanted I could read this whole comment out loud) from a position of some knowledge on this. I am a commercial pilot and a flight instructor and am also building my own experimental aircraft. (Go Velocity! - http://www.velocityaircraft.com/ [velocityaircraft.com]

      A TSO'd two panel glass avionics display consisting of about 8 to 10 inch PFD (Primary Flight Display) and MFD (Multi-Functional Display) will cost you in the neighborhood of $70,000 for a certificated system. (http://www.avidyne.com/products/release-9/r9-cirrus.asp)
      An experimental setup with similar capabilities can be had for perhaps $15,000. (http://www.dynonavionics.com/ http://www.grtavionics.com/ [grtavionics.com] )

      While I may personally think that the FAA has been overly cautious about allowing unknown devices on commercial flights, I would like to point out two things:

      First, their goal is to make things SAFE. Not comfortable. Not convenient. Not mobile-app-enabled. Safe. And they have done a heck of a job of that. Look at the safety record of the commercial aviation industry in the US. It's incredible. More people die on the way to or from the airport than die after they get there.

      Second, if device manufacturers wanted to pony up the cash to certify their devices they could. If Apple, Samsung and Motorola really wanted to they could pay to have their devices certified. But it's easier to simply blame the FAA. There is no budget in the FAA for certifying these devices. If they spent the money on this instead of other things the accident rate would go up. What do you think is the right choice for an organization whose goal is to make aviation safe?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:19PM (#42434859)

    The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

    That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.
    Don't like it ? change the rules, but then those rules apply to everyone and everything involved in aviation, not only consumer electronic devices.

    • by hawguy (1600213) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:30PM (#42435001)

      The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

      That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.
      Don't like it ? change the rules, but then those rules apply to everyone and everything involved in aviation, not only consumer electronic devices.

      If the FAA really thinks iPads, cellphones, and other devices are harmful or could be harmful, then they should treat them as such and require that the devices be stored in an RF shielded container, or that batteries be removed and held by the flight crew until it's safe to turn them back on.

      The power button on my cell phone is easily pressed by accident when I stuff it in my carryon bag, so more times than not, it's turned itself on at some point after I put it in the bag. I'm sure there are dozens of cell phones on every flight tucked away in checked and carryon bags that are powered on. Ironically, if I was allowed to hold the phone in my hands during takeoff, it would not accidentally turn on. (yes, I know my 4 ounce phone could become a hazardous projectile in an emergency, but so could the 24 ounce hardback book my seatmate is reading)

      If the FAA really thinks the devices may be harmful, they should treat them as harmful devices, instead of just looking the other way and ignoring them even though they know that the devices *are* in use during all phases of flight.

      It's kind of like how the TSA makes people discard drinks and other liquids before going through security since they could be explosives or hazardous explosive components, yet the trash is not treated as the hazardous waste they suspect it is. If they really think that the liquids may be hazardous, then they should treat them as hazardous waste - why would they let the janitor haul out a bin full of suspected explosives?

      • by plover (150551) on Monday December 31, 2012 @04:08PM (#42435357) Homepage Journal

        If they really think that the liquids may be hazardous, then they should treat them as hazardous waste - why would they let the janitor haul out a bin full of suspected explosives?

        That's the part that always gets me. If they believed to even 0.001% of a chance that the bottle of water I'm drinking from is a potentially explosive material, would they really tolerate having me toss it in a plastic garbage can next to them?

        If they're going to perform Mystery Security Theater 3000 and want us to believe in it, they should at least make sure that Tom Servo is reading from the same script.

        • by rlk (1089)

          The consequences of having something go boom on the ground are very different from the consequences of same happening in the air.

          That said, this particular rule is almost surely a massive overreaction to a one-time unsuccessful event. Obviously there are certain liquids we don't want on planes, but the same applies to certain solids (and I'm sure any self-respecting nerd can come up with plenty of them, including ones that are sensitive to water), and I don't see why the liquid vs. solid state has much to

    • by Citizen of Earth (569446) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:54PM (#42435245)

      That is not how it work is aviation. The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.

      It has been proven. Consider that 90% of flyers have a cell phone and 20% of them on every flight either forget to or refuse to turn off their transmission functions. (It's not like the stewards actually check this.) So, we have millions of experiments every year and not one single adverse effect. I doubt many other flight-safety regulations receive this level of testing.

      • by seebs (15766)

        What exactly is your evidence that there's been no adverse effects?

        I was on a plane once where the landing gear indicator insisted that the landing gear wasn't working, and had not actually dropped, but the pilot made the call to land anyway because he heard and felt it drop.

        Things like this happen all the time. Did you have some kind of evidence that they are not sometimes caused by cell phones?

    • by SuperBanana (662181) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:52PM (#42436329)

      The rule is you have to prove it is not harmful.

      Yep. And 10 years ago, my father and I tried turning on a laptop inside the single-engine plane on the ground, during engine-warmup/preflight checks.

      Buzzing on the intercom, and the RDF/VOR both went bonkers, even when set to local beacons where there was strong signal. Turns out the cheap laptop was unbelievably poorly shielded, leaking RF coming from the screen's backlight and the various major clocks.

      Do you really want your life to be endangered by the guy who brings some crappy laptop that isn't FCC/ECC certified onto the plane you're on?

      I find it funny that plenty of Slashdotters are HAM operators or 'get' interference, but are absolutely RIPSHIT that they have to turn off their devices while flying. Grow up, and recognize that you have an addiction and entitlement issues. Read a damn book, take a nap, meditate, strike up a conversation. You're not ENTITLED to sit there and surf the net.

  • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad,arnett&notforhire,org> on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:21PM (#42434883)
    ...this is kind of like saying "Since this one agency is finicky about technology, government regulation is ineffective and outdated. As such, the government shouldn't regulate medicine!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article links to "The Anarcho-capitalism Blog", which links to a NY Times article that has fuckall to do with Internet regulation.

      Just another symptom of Slashdot going downhill. The editors don't mind trolling, and a bunch of teenage anarchists in the commentariat just eat this stuff up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The Internet is quite different from flying airplanes, medicine, building cars, running large factories etc.
      All those activities are high risk and at the same time there are big incentive to cut corners (after all those crash test dummies are not free...).
      On the other hand, there are very few ways that the internet can kill you. So there is very little reason to create regulations for the internet as it is mostly harmless (even though some people blame suicides, purchase of fake medications and other physic

  • Unhelpful article (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover (150551) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:23PM (#42434903) Homepage Journal

    The blog uses a lot of charged words without saying anything of value. "Rules bad. Regulations bad. FAA dumb." And somehow this translates directly into "regulating the Internet is doomed to fail."

    First, I completely disagree with the "FAA dumb" comment. The FAA may be cautious, yes, but their mandate is aircraft safety -- it's their job to be cautious. I don't disagree with the other sentiments, but there is no logical argument put forth that explains why the rules are bad, why the regulations fail, or why the approach taken by an agency whose job is human safety (and not human convenience) will somehow doom the internet.

    • by jbolden (176878)

      Even if your only concern is safety, one thing that definitely interferes with safety is a developing practice of people considering airline regulation too onerous and ignoring / circumventing it. If we reach a point where even 15% of the public supports just breaking the rules the FAA has serious problems. Their odds of being about to get 12 people to convict on smoking in the bathroom or using a cell phone or carrying liquids on a plane in your underwear or... diminish. And their ability to effectively

      • by plover (150551)

        Yeah, it's the same as the "50 danger/warning stickers on a ladder" problem. Nobody reads them all, and very few people read any of them.

        And despite actions appearing to the contrary, their mandate is not the growth of the airline industry. The closest thing their mission statement [faa.gov] says is "Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world." I'm not sure where "efficiency" comes from other than providing air traffic control services.

        Are there lobbyists pushing

    • by tweak13 (1171627) on Monday December 31, 2012 @04:08PM (#42435351)
      This is exactly what I was thinking. It's the FAA's job to keep planes flying and keep the people on them safe. It sure as hell is not their job to promote internet usage.

      Basically the article is saying: "When you arbitrarily assign a job to a government agency, they're not very effective." Wow, I'm so glad that got cleared up. I was about ready to tell the local water works that they need to get me faster internet speeds.
  • by stox (131684) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:24PM (#42434907) Homepage

    There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

    • by Rob Kaper (5960)

      There has to be proof that such devices CAN'T harm a plane's avionics. Once that is done, we'll be able to play with our toys.

      You are allowed to bring them on board. That's all the proof you need.

    • by krakelohm (830589)
      I agree and I think that it probably causes no issues. What is funny is that people are getting that pissy over not being able to use something for 15 minutes at the start and 15 minutes at the end of a flight... really this is an overblown non-issue.
      • by hawguy (1600213)

        I agree and I think that it probably causes no issues. What is funny is that people are getting that pissy over not being able to use something for 15 minutes at the start and 15 minutes at the end of a flight... really this is an overblown non-issue.

        There are 730M air passengers in the USA each year.

        If just 10% or 73M of them want to use their mobile device during takeoff/landing, that's 36M hours of time taken away without any apparent reason. If the average air passenger's time is valued at $20/hour, that's $730M of productivity (or leisure time) taken away.

        • by krakelohm (830589)

          that's $730M of productivity (or leisure time) taken away.

          That is not time that was taken away, that is time you never had to play/work with you gadgets. I agree if there is no viable reason it should be allowed but this is not something we were able to do and then it was taken away. This is $730M of productivity or leisure time you did not have.

          • by hawguy (1600213)

            that's $730M of productivity (or leisure time) taken away.

            That is not time that was taken away, that is time you never had to play/work with you gadgets. I agree if there is no viable reason it should be allowed but this is not something we were able to do and then it was taken away. This is $730M of productivity or leisure time you did not have.

            How is it not time taken away? It's time I *could* be using my iPad, but I'm not allowed to because of some regulation that may have no reason to exist. Just because we haven't been able to do so in the past doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to do so in the future. We used to get hot meals (with real metal silverware) included in the price of a plane ticket, now we're lucky to be offered a $9.99 "snack pack", so apparently the amenities of air travel do change with the times.

    • by trdrstv (986999)
      They don't hurt the Avionics they hurt the Pilots. [penny-arcade.com]
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Avionics are safety critical. Is playing with electronic toys that important to you?

    Maybe you should pause from your obsession with continuous entertainment to think. That's the stuff some people do when they're not being entertained.

  • It's called CYA (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alen (225700) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:32PM (#42435013)

    Cover your ass

    I learned about it in high school

    The whiners are whining now but if there is an accident and the smallest shed of a hypothesis that someone's iPhone or droid caused the crash during takeoff or landing the same media and whiners will be calling for everyone to be fired for allowing it

  • FCC, not FAA (Score:5, Informative)

    by zerotorr (729953) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:33PM (#42435029)
    While the FAA has rules regarding electronics usage, cell phones in airplanes are covered specifically by the FCC. The FCC bans them because of the tax it would put on the system with thousands of cell phones switching cell towers much more rapidly then if those same phones were driving. They were worried about the significant overhead this would cause the cell system. While I've seen and heard many people complain about how much they don't believe that their phones would interfere with any avionics in any way, and they should be allowed to use them, I've never seen anyone address this specifically. What bothers me even more is that I've heard so many people complain about this, yet a simple wiki search reveals the actual reasoning behind the ban. I'm not saying it's justified or not, but if you're going to complain about something, at least don't be ignorant about it. Even if they didn't interfere with the airplane, there's more to it than that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_phones_on_aircraft [wikipedia.org] specifically- United States: To prevent disruption to the cell phone network from the effects of fast-moving cell phones at altitude (see discussion below), the FCC has banned the use of cell phones on all aircraft in flight.
  • Yet allowing in-flight devices and seeing passenger safety threatened as a result could threaten funding, power, and end several promising bureaucratic careers.

    Sure, maybe they only care about losing funding. But maybe, just maybe they care about that whole passenger safety thing.

  • by Enry (630) <(enry) (at) (wayga.net)> on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:40PM (#42435119) Journal

    AT&T was convinced that circuit switching (rather than packet switching) was the way to go. It took DARPA (you know, the government) years to convince them otherwise, in some cases going behind their backs to do so. They also spent decades telling people that only AT&T equipment can be installed in their homes, and there's no way you can use your own phone since it may damage their circuitry.

    Don't think that only government comes up with crappy rules.

  • by vlm (69642) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:41PM (#42435125)

    The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics

    That's weird. Just ask an A+P mechanic who's had to track down weird interference problems on a plane.

    Also its just gossip but most pilot lounges have had an informal conversation or two along the lines of "fly over that tower and your avionics get weird"

    The killer is stuff like ancient NDB/ADF radios... as long as there's a published ILS NDB approach in the entire USA airspace, you'll be stuck with what amounts to AM radio avionics on planes which are pretty good at hearing interference. Its possible, although hard, to mess up a VOR rx. I'm guessing VHF FM land mobile hand held radios (like, police and fire radios) are never going to be permitted on flying aircraft unless permanently installed and tested. GPS seems pretty hard to jam, but now you've got a single point of failure. Maybe a GPS, glosnass, and galileo triple stack of satnav would be approved, in a couple decades. Maybe.

    The FCC is uninterested in REALLY enforcing unintentional radiator regulations. Once in a while for a political stunt. The most /. famous story I can think of was the original class A rated TRS-80 model I being sold to class B residential users, that thing was so electrically noisy that the 'Shack gave up and released the model III instead of trying to patch up the model I. If they really enforced standards, then maybe the FAA could do some EMC/EMI work to prove a VOR rx cannot be interfered with, etc. But they don't, and there's a world full of noisy junk as any HF ham radio operator will attest, so...

  • backwards (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Monday December 31, 2012 @03:43PM (#42435157) Homepage Journal

    I think you got that backwards.

    The FAA does not have to prove that mobile devices endanger aircraft electronics. Those whose manufacture or those who want to use those devices on a plane need to prove that it doesn't.

    Yes, I know that some people get a heart attack if they can't check their e-mail, FB and Twitter for 20 seconds, but last time I checked, we all agree that "default deny" is the proper firewall policy. So with all security systems. If you don't know something is harmless, you need to treat it as a potential danger, until it is proven to be safe.

    And when a mistake can kill a few hundred people, you err on the side of caution. Always.

  • Let apple/samsung/microsoft foot the bill for a test plane and a bunch of devices. Certification for a life or death application should be VERY DIFFICULT, as far as I am concerned it is hard to be TOO conservative at 37000 ft. travelling 300 + mph. Besides what could possibly be so important that you couldn't wait till you landed ?

  • ... is NOT that "because some government regulations are unfounded, all of their regulations will be so.". The argument against regulations in general is that they punish innocent people (by restricting their liberty) without proof that the regulated activity will harm anyone. This is distinguished from objectively-defined law, where:

    a) the restricted activity (in the case of good law) is a violation of someone's rights.
    b) the violation must be proved in court (including civil court).

    So, to choose an exam

  • I just RTFA. So “Cathy” says the FAA is dumb. OK. She doesn’t supply a last name, so I’m not sure that inspires confidence.
    I once had a rather large aircraft manufacturer as a client. I asked one of the engineers about the cell-phones-off policy. He gave me several insights that were rather interesting.

    One of the functions of his group is to customize aircraft with electronic devices used by government agencies. As part of that, they had to insure such devices would not interfere with the aircraft control and navigation systems – and they found minor changes in position would greatly affect the results. It turns out putting all that gear inside a metal tube creates all sorts of reflections and other fun stuff. He was of the opinion that some combination of cell phone quantities and positions would surely create an issue. Just because we get away with it does not mean it won’t happen.

    This is outside my field, and he might be totally wrong. But I thought I should share a data point.

  • The FAA's position is that unless proven otherwise, it is assumed that electrical devices should be assumed to be dangerous. The original posts comment of "those devices haven't been proven to be dangerous" is ass-backwards. Do you really want to fly with things that *might* be dangerous, but haven't yet been *proven* dangerous? The problem is that the FAA is following the laws as now written. Each airline is responsible to "prove" that EACH model of device is SAFE before it is allowed to be used. Clearly t
  • Because people are a) too stupid to understand RF interference, b) they know its bullshit, or c) don't understand English.

  • The agency has no proof that electronic devices can harm a plane's avionics, but it still perpetuates such claims, spreading irrational fear among millions of fliers.

    The null hypothesis here is that electronic devices may or may not harm a plane's avionics. The FAA is taking the safe approach and not allowing those devices to be used during takeoff and landing. The author, however, is attempting to assert that electronics do not harm a plane's avionics. Unless one can come up with a way to prove all electronics will not harm a plane's avionics, I don't think the FAA should change its opinion on the matter.

    The rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious.

    When trying to argue in favor of Net Neutrality, I'd hear this

  • by Myopic (18616) * on Monday December 31, 2012 @04:32PM (#42435637)

    "Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious."

    Um, no, that is the opposite of the truth. Government regulations are nearly always up-to-date and too lenient -- but if you look hard enough, you can find the one or two exceptions, such as Kindles on airplanes. You can weigh that one single instance against, say, the hundreds of thousands of building codes and food safety regulations.

    That's not to say we shouldn't clean up those rare exceptions when we find them. We should, and we should with this one instance. But only a libertarian would be so daft as to ignore the vast overwhelming evidence presented by reality in order to hole up inside a small dark den of anarchistic ideology.

  • by rlk (1089) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:16PM (#42436065)

    The FAA's role is to be extremely cautious. Aviation's one of those things where minor mistakes can have disastrous consequences. Same kind of thing as with medical devices: they had better work, perfectly, every time. And since individual components can fail, the backup systems also need to just plain work. The more outside factors can interfere with the system, the harder it is to analyze down to some large number of 9's. So don't expect the FAA to move quickly when it comes to authorizing any changes, including RF that might or might not be generated from the cabin. Given the wide range of consumer electronics, they want to make sure that the worst case scenario won't come close to generating problems for the avionics, particularly during takeoff and landing. They'll get around to it, but only after doing lots of homework. I wouldn't want to fly on a plane whose owner is allowed to cut corners on safety; the airlines would do everything they could to save money.

    The internet is a very different kind of system, and the role of government regulation is different. I *do* want government regulation of the form that protects us from "regulation" by private service providers -- things like upload/download limits, preferential treatment for certain kinds of content, functionality with all devices (I don't want to be told that I have to run Windows, for example). Net neutrality requires either effective government regulation or real competition, and for some strange reason, real competition in telecommunications doesn't seem to be a stable situation. Look at what's happened since ATT was broken up; the industry has reconsolidated around a couple of big companies that seem content to divide up the pie rather than seriously compete with one another.

    Chattanooga, Tennessee is doing very nicely with public internet. Around here my only choice for fast internet seems to be Comcast, with its high prices and 250 GB monthly cap (I ran a script on my system, and found that it's not hard to hit half of that, on a much lower bandwidth DSL line). Verizon hasn't bothered to build out FIOS to my area, and while that may be fast compared to most of the US, it would be very slow in Chattanooga (or many other countries).

    I just don't believe that that kind of situation is going to get fixed without government regulation. Google is in the process of building out Kansas City (?), but that kind of piecemeal approach isn't going to solve the broader problem.

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