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Engineer tests electronic devices on airplane systems
SEATTLE -- Airline passengers are used to being told to turn off electronic devices during flight. But exactly how much do those electronics interfere with the plane's system? Are they really dangerous?
"Please turn off all cellular phones and other electronic devices."
The FAA could decide to relax those restrictions.
At Boeings plant in Seattle--We asked the people who build the planes if it's dangerous to keep devices on during all phases of flight.
"The emissions are being measured by this antenna here."
Inside Boeings electromagnetic interference lab... Engineers have been studying the issue for years, testing cell phones', laptops' and tablets' impact on airplane systems.
Engineer Kenny Kirchoff tested a cell phone.
"This phone is communicating with the cell tower, and these spikes show that it has failed," Kirchoff said.
Its emissions crossed the threshold and could interfere with systems like the plane's smoke alarm.
Next test: A laptop.
"Goes above the limit line, said Kirchoff
It failed, showing potential interference with the pilots' communications radios. A tablet in Wi-Fi mode also failed. But the same tablet in airplane mode tested safe.
Kirchoff said, "It's not necessarily that a phone can bring down an airplane. That's not really the issue. The issue is interfering with the airplane and causing more work for pilots during critical phases of flight."
A recent survey found one in three passengers left their devices on because they forgot. Despite that, engineers say no electronic device has ever taken down a plane.
New planes are being built knowing passengers are flying with electronics, and they want to use them. So planes like this one being designed with technology that can counter interference."
Kirchoff recommends devices not be used in flight unless the airplane has been tested against every possible electronic device that could be used on board. And he says there's another problem.
"You would be asking all of the flight attendants to monitor which devices are good and which devices can't be used and that, that's a heavy burden for flight attendants, said Kirchoff.
A burden... he says... is impractical.