But based on everything I'm aware of, the Kindle/headset/computer/digital camera situation seems similar to the that of the millimeter wave machines: that they should be presumed safe unless demonstrated to be harmless. How dare I say this? Answers are in some of the reader comments that follow, but the main one is: for a decade or so, we've conducted a kind of real-world mass survey. The "everything with an on-off switch" edict is often announced but very rarely enforced. (Have you ever seen a flight attendant check that cell phones are actually turned off, rather than just silenced or hidden?) There's not even pretend-enforcement on private-jet flights. So over the years we have undoubtedly had hundreds of thousands of flights taxiing, taking off, and landing while "on-off switches" are set to On, with scant if any evidence of any navigational interference.
Yes, there could be a problem. And, yes, any passenger standing in a TSA screening line could be a terrorist. But just as treating all passengers as potential terrorists (and therefore forbidding them to take yogurt or snow-globes onto a plane) makes screening cumbersome, so too does testing based on the assumption any one of these items could make a plane fall out of the sky. Unavoidable, perhaps. But cumbersome nonetheless.
Now, other readers. First from one in the Dallas-Fort Worth area:
I was a frequent passenger on the Texas Rangers Baseball charters a few years ago - always full-sized passenger aircraft - and no one ever was instructed to bring their seat backs up (another idiotic rule) or turn off anything.
As major airlines operated all of the planes we used, which was the case with most if not all other MLB teams, one would think that the crews would be particularly vigilant if there any real dangers posed by reclined seats or electronic/wireless devises: for an ENTIRE MAJOR LEAGUE TEAM AND ITS HIGH PROFILE ANNOUNCERS/SPORTS PRESS CADRE CRASHING MIGHT BE A BIT BAD FOR PR.
Why can't we get the MSM to pick this up and put the pressure on the FAA and airlines to eliminate this lunacy? As you imply, these regulations debase the serious rules that should be adhered to. And flight attendants are the ones "distracted" from more important work, while being forced to endure more unhealthy on-the-job stress, to enforce these fallaciously founded rules.
From a writer/editor who is also a longtime pilot:
I was just talking the other day with a friend who is a United 737 captain... and he said they're still going through a complex testing-and-certification process with their cockpit iPads and aren't actually using them yet for anything useful under 10,000 feet. They have four in each cockpit: two hard-wired into the airplane and one personal one per pilot that they've been issued.
I'd always heard that the issue with PEDs [personal electronic devices] is not "electronic" but that the cabin crew (and assumedly the FAA) doesn't want everybody deep into their headsets on climb-out or approach when there's an emergency and the F/As need to be heard, and he agreed that that's part of the reason for the below-10,000 ban. But another potential problem is that though each individual videogame or iPad or, god help us, smartphone puts out a minuscule amount of energy, what happens when you have 300 passengers simultaneously pumping away at laptops or game-boys on the same airplane?
On the other hand, from an FAA veteran:
watched ABC World News' report on the FAA's review of
personal electronics last week. I was very happy until the end of the
piece. When the corespondent stated that the FAA would test each device, separately, in each model of the aircraft, I was floored.
article gave the FAA the benefit of the doubt. As a retired FAA Air
Traffic controller, I would say that doing the unnecessary testing is a
way for the FAA to distance itself from the original error. If the FAA
so desired, they could deem all FCC approved low-powered personal
electronics safe for all phases of flight. This could be done within 90
days . Data acquisition would take a week at most, the remainder of the
timed used in writing the new regulations. (It is the FAA after all.)
Here is how:
My Kindle and my MP3 player are both have "FFC
approved" symbols. All technical information on the RFI characteristics
of these device are contained in the FCC databases. All RFI
characteristics of aircraft instruments and flight systems are contained
in FAA databases. A simple correlation between the databases would
produce the necessary data. Any aircraft instrument and flight system
that can withstand the RFI from airport surveillance radar should not be
affected by a Kindle.
Simple. Should stand up in court.
I expect to be turning off my Kindle for the next two years.
From a reader in the tech world:
A friend of mine was working at Bose while the original (Bose) consumer grade noise-cancelling headphones were being developed. A pre-production unit was taken to the airport to test against real-life conditions. While in use on the ground awaiting takeoff, the headphones emitted a periodic chirping noise. After what was probably a fair amount of work, the engineers eventually realized that they were picking up the RF burst as the radar swept by. The design was tweaked to provide more shielding to reject this noise. The point of the story is that if the airlines/FAA are worried about RF noise disturbing the planes, they're looking in the wrong place. The emissions of the headphones are dwarfed by the deliberate signal of the radar, at least when in close proximity to the airport.
And, finally, back to the original topic: how the combination of economic de-regulation and security hyper-regulation have changed the basic utility of commercial air travel:
I also live in St. Louis [like a reader mentioned here] so it really hits home.
A recent business trip also came to mind. We're working on some machined parts (commercial aircraft components) with a similar company in Wichita and have both visited each other's sites recently. The trip is between two cities with rich aerospace traditions and we both chose to ... drive. There are no direct or easy flights and the ones that are available are expensive. I'm not trying to make any kind of compelling argument but it seemed mildly ironic.