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FAA Device Rules Illustrate the Folly of a Regulated Internet 449

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accepted submitter cathyreisenwitz writes "The New York Times' Bits blog has a great piece on the FAA's inconvenient, outdated and unhelpful rules regarding electronic devices on planes: 'Dealing with the F.A.A. on this topic is like arguing with a stubborn teenager.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rules illustrate why we shouldn't let the government regulate the internet: Government regulations are nearly always outdated and too cautious."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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  • 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.

  • Re:Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jklovanc ( 1603149 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:49PM (#42436307)

    Big difference. Free speech can not cause aircraft instruments to malfunction and the plane to fly into the ground killing hundreds of people. The opposite is also true. One could get drug companies saying "Prove that this drug does not harm people or let us sell it". It is a risk reward issue. People have lived quite happily on aircraft before wireless devices were invented and they can continue to do so with their wireless devices turned off. If the wireless industry wants to be on aircraft let them pay for the testing to prove that they won't kill people.

  • Re:Pilots... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by plover ( 150551 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @05:51PM (#42436323) Homepage Journal

    Anecdotally, I believe there is an infinitesimally small chance that the EMI from even a gray market electronic device is going to bring down a plane. Pilots have many independent devices working separately confirming they're on the proper heading, approach, glide slope, etc. And interference causing a misreading on one device would not likely cause the same misreading on another unrelated device -- a rogue GPS reading isn't going to bring down a plane when everything else is working.

    But one failure of one system never brings down a plane. The RNAV is broken? Check the GPS. GPS is out? Check the compass. Compass is stuck? Look out the window. Foggy? Check the RNAV. There's three or more redundant ways to do anything in a plane.

    Your phone might be fine today, or it might be leaking RF ever since that one time you dropped it and an internal shield came loose. It still wouldn't be a problem on an airplane unless a half dozen other things are going wrong for the pilot. It might be a cloudy, rainy day, right about the time he is flying the crazy tight approach into the Hong Kong airport, when a lightning strike takes out one of the engines and the nav radios. And perhaps the mechanic failed to properly seal the GPS antenna connection. At that very particular time a GPS that's being confused by the EM from a faulty phone is not something the pilot needs to deal with.

    The thing is that while a series of unfortunate events is extremely unlikely, there are enough flights and planes in the sky every single day, such that the laws of probability are still going to line up the bad stuff every so often. While it would be nice if the pilot asked for the passengers to turn off their phones as a precaution only when he could anticipate difficulty, that would be a lot more convenient, but that's the thing about bad luck: if they could predict all of it, they'd never crash again.

  • 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.

  • 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! - []

    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. (
    An experimental setup with similar capabilities can be had for perhaps $15,000. ( [] )

    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?

  • Re:Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @06:30PM (#42436685)

    I was going to say much the same.

    The context that we are in a metal tube flying 500+ mph at ~35k feet in the air deserves to be considered.

    Apparently nobody can prove anything either way, but a smart person would err on the side of caution.

    I turn off all the wireless capabilities of my devices while flying the entire time. Whatever electromagnetic radiation is being given off a PSP is short range, and not much different than a portable CD player, or DVD player. I'm not afraid of my cell phone in airplane mode. Gee, wonder why they chose that name for the function?

    Wireless technologies like cell phones, Bluetooth, and wireless transmission standards are designed to saturate the spectrums they operate in. Especially, technology we have now, as that is how it obtains the speeds that it does. Cell phone technology is designed to operate up to the point of saturation as well. I have absolutely no idea how interference in those spectrums affects any equipment on a plane at all. Only the designers and manufacturers do, of which, I have not heard a peep from.

    So until they say I can use the equipment that way, I'm perfectly fine leaving it shut off.

    It's either that, or me saying that I'm smart and informed enough to risk a failed landing because I want my fucking Android tablet operating while we land so I can get the high score in Angry Birds.

  • Re:Wow (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jonwil ( 467024 ) on Monday December 31, 2012 @07:13PM (#42437087)

    I have watched many episodes of Air Crash Investigation where the incident turned out to be caused because the airline decided that the costs of maintanence to correct an issue (and the huge costs of having airplanes out of the air while the fix done) were big enough that it was judged to be worth the risk to keep flying with the flaw. (and in some cases it took multiple incidents caused by the same flaw before the airlines, aircraft manufacturer and FAA agreed to a timely fix)

    The problems with the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 cargo door (which were first picked up during the investigation into American Airlines flight 96 and not actually fixed until after Turkish Airlines flight 981 had a similar mid-air cargo door blowout) is a good example. As is the very similar problem that affected the cargo door on the Boeing 747 in United Flight 811.

    Its the same reason we have government regulation on automobiles covering everything from the shape of the headlights to the minimum number of airbags a car has to have. If we didn't the automobile manufacturers would skimp on safety anywhere they thought they could do it and still have customers buying their cars.

"Turn on, tune up, rock out." -- Billy Gibbons