Cell phones and other mobile devices really do cause a certain amount of electronic interference during flight, some crew members contend in a confidential industry report conducted by the International Air Transport Association and obtained by ABC News.
The report details 75 incidences of electronic interference during passenger and cargo airline flights between 2003 and 2009 that have been attributed to personal electronic devices by crew members on board. Of the 75 separate events, 26 affected flight controls, 17 affected navigation systems and 15 affected communications systems.
The incidents cited in the report include autopilot disengagement, incorrect GPS information and faulty altitude readings, among others. Cell phones were blamed as the most common culprits by crew members, and were attributed to four out of every 10 events.
Many in the aviation community are skeptical of the report, writing it off as an accumulation of anecdotal evidence that doesn’t constitute methodical data, which the authors do not deny. The report itself stresses that it is not verifying whether or not the instances were the result of personal electronic device use.
Some in the industry, however, contend that personal electronic devices can cause real flight disruption in certain cases. Boeing’s David Carson, who co-chaired a federal advisory committee on the issue of electronic interference, told ABC News that hidden electronic signals from Blackberrys, iPhones and, worst of all, iPads, have been tested and are not within limits deemed appropriate for aircraft.
Flying spoke with a team leader at one firm that produces electronic flight bags and confirmed that while no incidences of iPads having caused interference were noted, electronic testing showed signals exceeding in a few instances the conservative published limits.
A 2006 Carnegie Mellon study found that cell phones can cause interference aboard airplanes, especially with GPS receivers when multiple devices are communicating simultaneously.
Robert Goyer contributed to this report.