New report confirms fliers should switch off before taking off

For many travelers, the standard warnings that electronic equipment should be switched off in-flight are nothing more than a procedure, often surreptitiously - and sometimes blatantly - ignored.

However, that may now be about to change, after a report surfaced in the US this week which suggested that passengers would do well to heed the warnings which have been given for so long.

The study, conducted confidentially but obtained by US news channel ABC News, found a total of 75 incidents of electronic interference which flight crews believed were linked to mobile phones or other electronic devices between 2003 and 2009.

Some 26 of these incidents were related to flight controls such as autopilot and landing gears, 17 were related to navigation equipment and 15 affected communications systems.

Although the group which commissioned the report, the International Air Transport Association, stresses that none of the incidents are verified to have been caused by electronic devices, the narratives contained within it seem to confirm what some experts have been warning for a long time.

All personal electronic devices emit radiation, with cellular phones sending particularly strong signals to allow them to communicate with towers.

If equipment isn't well shielded, the radiation can affect other electronic circuits (easily demonstrable by placing a cellphone on a call next to a speaker), and the highly sensitive equipment on board an aircraft is thought to be especially susceptible.

At takeoff and landing, when accurate instrumentation is critical to the flight crew, even a momentary inaccuracy could be fatal - and although newer planes are extensively shielded to allow calls in flight, scientists have warned that older models may not be.

Boeing's Dave Carson told ABC News that mobile phones could disrupt instrument landing systems, demonstrating that while a BlackBerry and an iPhone both produced signals well over the limits Boeing considers acceptable, an iPad - becoming more commonplace - was the worst offender.

In March, Boeing revealed that new on-board WiFi systems had produced "blanking" of some cockpit equipment during routine installation testing, prompting it to halt installations until the problem was rectified.

See the report: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/cellphone-use-on-planes-safety-threat-13806022

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