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Can Electronic Devices Cause Plane Crashes?

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Chicago, ILIn an attempt to keep themselves occupied while on the plane, and probably to stop themselves from worrying about plane crashes, many passengers bring portable electronic devices on the plane with them. Although some may worry about their cell phones emitting signals, not many think about other devices, such as iPods, and what role they could play in a plane crash. Even though electronic devices have not been solely blamed for any airplane crash in the US, there is a chance they could interfere with the plane's navigational systems, creating the potential for a devastating plane accident.

According to an article in The New York Times (01/17/11), electronic devices may cause disruptions in the cockpit. Those devices include items such as iPods and e-books, which emit waves that can interfere in how the plane operates. And, although most people are good about shutting off their cell phones when instructed by a plane's crew, some people think their other electronic devices are fine to leave on.

The problem could be worse on older planes, The New York Times notes, because those planes might not have adequate defenses against interference from electronic devices.

The New York Times article also notes that pilots have filed reports in which a link between the use of electronic devices and problems in the cockpit was suggested. This included one instance in which navigational equipment that was not working began to function when a passenger was ordered to shut off his electronic device.

Meanwhile, American Airlines has come under fire from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for allegedly accessing data from a black box before turning the plane's recorders over to federal officials. The NTSB's investigation involved a December 29, 2010, incident in which an American Airlines plane slid more than 300 feet past the end of the runway in Wyoming.

A Wall Street Journal (01/03/11) report noted that no information was missing or altered but that it was a breach of protocol for American Airlines to access that information before the NTSB could access it. As a result, American Airlines officials have been banned from participating in the investigation.

NTSB policy states that airplane recorders must be handed over without airlines accessing the information in them by any means.

There were no fatalities or injuries in the incident, which involved a Boeing 757 that was carrying 181 crew and passengers from Chicago O'Hare International Airport.


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