Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Airlines blame mobile phones for instrument problems

Mobile phones and other electronic devices have disrupted flight instruments 75 times over six years, according to a confidential report prepared for the aviation industry.

Electronic devices could cause plane crashes, experts warn
Photo: ALAMY
 Pilots and crews told the International Air Transport Association that between 2003 and 2009, mobile phones, iPods, laptops and other equipment all caused problems.
A total of 26 of the incidents affected flight controls, including the autopilot, autothrust and landing gear, according to ABC News.
A further 17 reports concerned navigations systems, there were 15 incidents of interference affecting communications systems and 13 triggered warnings including “engine indications”.
During one flight electronic devices are believed to have caused the autopilot to disengage at 4,500ft.
The report says: "“The autopilot disengaged by itself and the associated warnings/indications came on. [Flight attendants] were immediately advised to look out for PAX [passengers] operating electronic devices,” the report says. “[Attendants] reported that there were 4 PAX operated electronic devices
After an announcement telling passengers not to use their electronic devices, “for their safety and the safety of the flight” the flight continued without any further incident.
The IATA report stresses that it does not verify that electronic devices caused the problems, however, but records the impressions of pilots and crew. Mobile phones are believed to have been responsible for 40 per cent of the incidents.
In another incident it’s claimed a GPS unit in the cabin gave an incorrect reading because two laptops were being used nearby. Electronic interference was also blamed for rapidly changing altitude measurements on a separate flight. Passengers were asked to switch off their devices and the readings returned to normal.
“After an hour, changes were noticed again… Purser made a second announcement and the phenomena stopped,” the report says.
The claims will stir the debate over the use of electronic devices on flights. Some experts believe the rules are overly cautious.
“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but it’s not evidence at all,” John Nance, a former commercial and Air Force pilot, told ABC News.
“Its pilots, like myself, who thought they saw something but they couldn’t pin it to anything in particular. And those stories are not rampant enough, considering 32,000 flights a day over the U.S., to be convincing.”
The UK Civil Aviation Authority has found that electronic interference from phones can lead to “errors” on instrument displays and create noise on pilot radios, however. Boeing said the problems could be particularly severe on older aircraft whose instruments are not well shielded.
The use of mobile phones on aircraft was banned until 2008, when the communication regulator Ofcom agreed that carriers could offer coverage above 3000ft. Several airline including BA, Emirates and Ryanair responded by launching services costing up to £2 per minute for voice calls. American carriers have also launched in-flight WiFi services.

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