I just finished reading this article about various types of tech that are not permitted to be active while a plane is in flight. From what I gather from this article, Ipads, cell phones, and laptops that are set for internet access can generate an electromagnetic pulse that may jeopardize the flight. I loved the comparison of Steve Jobs print biography and an e-book of the same on an Ipad with the weight difference in pounds heavily in favor of the print selection. No, I do not want to get hit in the head with a copy of the print book, but when it comes to flying, I’ll let the individual airlines and FAA set the rules as to what is permissible and what is not.
There was a flight to Paris that took off from Kennedy Airport in Queens, NY in 1996. The flight was a routine summer flight that was taking off at 9:30 PM on July 17, 1996. About twelve minutes after take-off the plane exploded above the Atlantic off the towns of Moriches on Long Island’s South Shore. The final investigation by the NTSB was that there had been a spark in the fuel tank that had caused the catastrophic failure of the planes structure after an internal explosion. This explosion was also precipitated by a high-volume increase in the pressure within the fuel cell which eventually destroyed the flight. Why is this a significant discussion based on our initial information on Ipads and cell phones? Because the exact cause of the crash has never been ascertained to a high-degree of certainty.
If the fuel tank explosion brought down TWA Flight 800, than a similar problem should have occurred on another flight either prior to or after this devastating tragedy. Although two other flights may have experienced similar problems (Avianca Flight 203 and Philippine Airlines Flight 143), this does not seem to mesh with the number of flights that actually occur in the course of a year much less over many years time. There are other theories as to why flight 800 crashed (a US navy missile cruiser was in the area at the time and a rogue missile was thought to have struck the plane) but nothing concrete has ever been brought to light that would overturn the fuel tank explanation. Is this something that could happen again, the answer would have to be Yes.
Now, getting back to the question at hand: Should we allow people to use devices that may generate an electromagnetic pulse that could be harmful to the operation of the flight? The answer is no. If the decision were made that these devices were allowed, I would be on-board with that as well, but the FAA and the airlines have to be the ones who decide, and public pressure should not be a determining factor when safety issues are in play. Why add one more item into the mix of things that may be harmful, when just by keeping them turned off there is no danger to the flight, crew and/or passengers? Also, the pilots have enough to worry about in flying the plane, why throw one more thing at them that could cause a bad day to get really bad quickly?
In this case, bring the e-reader but leave the wireless setting on “OFF”. Being safe is many times better than being sorry!
Suggested Book Readings:
1. The Downing of Flight 800
2. First Strike: TWA Flight 800 and the Attack on America
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