SEarlier this week, a Qantas A330 inexplicably climbed 300 feet and then suddenly nose-dived back down. In the cabin, 71 people were injured. Interestingly, the ATSB is now looking at in-cabin interference from personal electronics as a possible cause of the "irregularity with the aircraft's elevator control system." Wait, what? Really? This wouldn't be the first time Qantas has blamed passengers' gadgets for an in-flight mishap; in July, a Bluetooth mouse was said to have resulted in a Qantas jet's autopilot being thrown off course. Passengers on Tuesday's ill-fated altitude drop will now be questioned regarding what electronics they may have been using at the time of the incident. The issue of whether everyday personal electronics can actually cause any significant problems on board an airliner is clouded, to say the least. On one hand, it's hard to see how such common devices that meet FCC and UL interference standards can affect airliners that are designed to be able to withstand lightning strikes-critical components on a commercial jet are shielded to prevent any kind of interference getting through. On the other side, claims of the insulation degrading in older jets making them more susceptible to interference make sense. Then of course there is the perfectly rational "why chance it" argument. This Wiki page delves into the issue in more detail, and Patrick from Ask the Pilot, one of my favorite online columns, gave the issue a characteristically sober and level-headed look earlier this year (verdict: interference technically possible but highly unlikely). So why Qantas would be making a push for this line of reasoning is kind of a mystery. [UPDATE: Nick from Giz OZ has let us know that this story may be in fact a result of a misunderstanding-apparently a reporter got the jet's onboard computers (for navigation, etc) mixed up with the computers of actual passengers in his original report. The NTSB is still not ruling out interference from passenger gadgets, though.] What about you guys? Do you heed the warnings to turn off everything, or fly in the face of danger with iPod blaring away during takeoff. Must admit I've been guilty of the latter, occasionally. [NZ Herald via Slashdot, Photo: Daquella Manera/Flickr]
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