Monday, December 19, 2011

iPads approved by FAA for use by airline pilots, not passengers

As reported by The New York Times and ZDNet last week, iPads are now approved by the FAA for use by pilots. iPad flight charts replace about 35 pounds of paper charts. Another story says that the iPads, which weigh about 1.5 pounds, will save some $1.2 million worth of fuel a year.

Supposedly fearing disruption of avionics equipment, the FAA has yet to approve iPad use for passengers when the planes are below 10,000 feet. Yet if I interpret the FAA correctly, pilots, using iPads while sitting directly next to the avionics, present no threat.

This reminds me of the still on-going controversy about the use of cell phones in hospital intensive care units. Cell phones have been said to interfere with monitors and ventilators. Many hospitals still have signs prohibiting cell phone use.

Research (e.g., here, here and here) shows that cell phones do not cause clinically important interference with medical devises unless placed within a minimum of about 3 feet, although a Dutch study claimed otherwise. However, that study used certain European cell phones which emit three times the energy of American phones. It is likely that iPads and other tablets do not cause problems either.

Yes, I realize that being unable to use one’s iPad for 30 minutes of an airplane flight is not really that big a sacrifice. And I would hate to be subjected to three hours of 200 people talking on their phones in a space as confined as an airliner. But one could make the same argument as that use regarding the replacing of paper flight charts with iPads. Let’s say 200 passengers brought iPads, Kindles or Nooks aboard instead of books. Wouldn’t that save a lot of weight and fuel too?

If it’s about being distracted during critical take-off and landing sequences, then the flight attendants should make all passengers put down their non-electronic books during those times too.

Bottom line: Rules that are irrational cause people to lose faith in authority. If this rule is not rational, people think maybe other rules [e.g., the 55 mph speed limit] are not rational either. As respect for authority decreases, chaos ensues.

UPDATE 12/26/2011:
New York Times reports electronic devices do not emit significant energy and are highly unlikely to affect avionics.

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