SEATAC, Wash. - When walking around Sea-Tac Airport, it surely feels like everybody had something electronic in their hand - checking reservations, checking in, reading the boss’ latest email.
But on the plane the rules change. No electronics can be on below 10,000 feet. And while cruising laptops and tablets are OK to use, cell phones are off limits, unless it’s a smart phone where the “cell” part can be turned off, leaving WiFi and other functions working.
The safety concerns over on board electronics go back a lot farther than smart phones, decades in fact. The aviation industry, including Boeing and regulators like the FAA, have studied it for years after pilot complaints that on board electronics from early video games and portable computers had the power to alter the plane’s navigation systems and as emissions were picked up and transmitted through the plane’s wiring.
But the evidence has been largely anecdotal and experts have found it difficult to replicate the exact conditions that caused problems on the flight deck. No two flights are exactly the same, with different-sized people sitting in different seats using different devices flight to flight.
In one test, Boeing used sacks of potatoes sitting in seats inside an old DC-10 on the ground to try and capture the ability of the human body to absorb radio waves, mostly in an effort to find out why modern WiFi aboard jets could be spotty.
But as for more liberal electronic rules, no later than next Monday, September 30, the FAA Advisory and Rules Committee on Personal Electronic Devices is expected to report their findings.
It is anticipated the committee will find that tablets, laptops, video players and other commonly used personal electronics can be left on through all phases of flight, from takeoff to touchdown, but that cell phones will remain off as the committee is not being asked to look into cellular telephone transmission.