It was announced recently that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would be lifting their long-running, controversial restriction on the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing on US flights. The lifting of this ban has been hailed as major victory for passengers who can now use their smartphones, tablets, and laptops during all aspects of air travel. Unfortunately, many cannot recognise the indirect implications of lifting this ban and why it should stay in effect.
The ban was implemented in the early 1990’s during the introduction of mobile phones, and the advent of portable electronics, as FAA, Federal Communication Commission (FCC), and airlines became increasingly worried about the possibility of passengers’ electronic devices causing interference with the aircraft’s navigational and flight computers.
In the past few years there have been numerous studies, experts, and organizations that have debunked any threat to the aircraft through the use of electronic devices during any phase of flight. While this info is true, and the ban might not be necessary from a technical standpoint, I do believe that lifting the ban is still cause for concern.
Near-stall speeds, changed aerodynamic characteristics from lowering the undercarriage, cross-winds, and many other factors make taking off and landing one of the most dangerous aspects of flight. In the event of a crash, or the need to be evacuated for any reason, commercial aircraft are required to be certified such that all passengers are able to completely evacuate in under 90 seconds, in the dark, and only using a randomly assigned 50% of the available doors. This is a vital component of emergency procedure, and is in place because regulatory bodies know the importance of a speedy evacuation.
This ban on the use of electronics, though not necessary for protecting the plane against interference, has the added bonus of making sure that people are not completely distracted by their electronics during the most critical part of the flight. Absorbed in their devices, watching movies, playing games, or doing work, often with headphones on, the passengers are distracted when they should be at their most vigilant. Wasting even just the five or ten second it takes for people to put away their electronics could mean the difference between life and death.
Unfortunately it is going to take a tragedy for people to realize that being able to use their electronics for a few more minutes on a flight is not worth the risk to the lives of all the passengers and crew on-board.