The debate about using electronic gadgets on airliner cabins seems to be never-ending, and was high-lighted again with the recent Alec Baldwin incident on an American Airlines flight. I addressed a similar issue with this blog post about Europe allowing cell phones. In the almost four years since I wrote that post, very little has changed among the airlines and certification agencies (FAA, etc.) when it comes to allowing electronic devices to be used in all phases of a commercial flight. A recent editorial on Engadget offers some practical solutions for finally ending this debate. The post argues for implementing a testing and certification program for any new electronic device to be used on a commercial airliner. (Although even if an electronic device is found to not interfere with the aircraft avionics, there may be other safety reasons for turning them off or stowing them during certain phases of flight, as is pointed out by a flight attendant in the comments section of the Engadget editorial.)
In my experience working in the aerospace industry for over 30 years, I know the technology is available to not only test for E3 (electromagnetic environmental effects) compatibility among cabin and cockpit electronics, but to also to provide shielding if any adverse affects are discovered. The military has been doing exactly this type of testing for years on every new aircraft that is developed, so it shouldn’t be that hard to develop a similar certification program for commercial aircraft. Let’s get agreement from all concerned parties to develop a technically sound certification program. The interested parties include the airlines, airliner manufacturers, electronics and avionics manufacturers, government regulators, and most importantly, the electronic/electrical professional organizations such as IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. It’s time to stop all the debate and finally provide solid technical reasons why electronic gadgets should or should not be allowed to be used in airline cabins.