Leaving the Ground? Shut It Down

This story flew under my radar, probably because it was published in USA Today, which is not necessarily known for its in-depth investigative journalism.
The bottom line: f*cking with your smartphone on an airplane has a clear potential for danger. The report uncovered nearly three dozen incidents of interference from onboard passenger electronic devices last year. The interference affected communications and navigational systems; though none resulted in an accident, critical flight-management systems were compromised.
When you’re hurtling through the air several miles off the ground in a pressurized aluminum tube, a margin of safety is a relative thing. Individually, portable electronic devices may pose little danger, but when dozens or hundreds of them are in operation on a single plane, you can see how the risk of interference can rise. (Interference itself is not cumulative in such a situation – it’s a question of the proliferation of potentially interfering sources.)
Last decade, the FCC considered removing its own regulations that prohibit the use of portable electronic devices on airplanes, but decided to keep the prohibitions in place because “the technical information provided by interested parties in response to the proposal was insufficient.” Granted, the FCC’s concern is focused on the potential for interference from an aircraft to ground-based communications systems, but when you’re dealing with an aviation situation, isn’t it best to err on the side of caution?
What’s worse, there are ample penalties available to exercise against scofflaws, but they are very rarely utilized. These range from fines to suspension of wireless service and even arrest. However, in today’s aviation environment, where cost and convenience trump all and the flight experience is something that one endures more than they enjoy, I get the sense that passengers and cabin crew alike simply can’t be bothered to enforce compliance.
Facebook, Twitter, and all of the folks in your address book will still be there when you land. Give it a rest.