Scaremongering on Cellphones & Airplanes: The difference between Good Journalism and Bad Journalism

Cellphones and airplanes has always been a hot issue. But I came across an link on a friend’s Facebook this afternoon and I was in disbelief.
 
 
So, just one mobile phone or electronic device during a flight, can cause a plane’s system to shut down. Sure, a lot of the electromagnetic interference from mobile phones or smart gadgets have been deemed “unrepeatable in laboratory conditions hence unable to be confirmed or dismissed as dangerous”, and that everyone has been siding on caution. But, with all these new developments in cabin services,THE HOT ITEM for the industry has been CONNECTIVITY and WIRELESS TECHNOLOGY for IFE, and whatever you can think of!
 
If you read and believe what that Daily Mail article contained, I can’t blame you for thinking that someone decided to put everyone in danger… but seriously, it is NOT that simple, and not that dangerous, provided everyone obey the rules on when you can and cannot turn on your mobiles or personal gadgets.
 
The article mentioned incidents caused by these gadgets and I have no doubt that the causes were what is written. My friends who fly around the world as crewmembers, also know the dangers of these interference. One had his ILS receiver dying just as he intercepted the glideslope on an approach to a Turkish airport with hills and mountains on the sides of the approch path. These interferences, he claimed, happen so often, his cabin crew knows which rows are the most likely suspects… and they were mostly mobile phones.
I recently flew on Emirates from Jakarta to Hamburg via Dubai, and back. On all the flights, the aircraft were equipped with On-board GSM service provided by Aeromobile. Yes, you read it right… ON BOARD MOBILE PHONE SERVICE, using YOUR OWN MOBILE PHONE! All the approaches done into Dubai and Jakarta that I was on, were ILS approaches. My aircraft did not go-around because the ILS receiver blanked out during approach, nor did any of the flights suffered deviations from their designated flight path on all phases (unless instructed by the ATC or deliberate deviations to avoid weather)
I even switched my mobile phone on during the flight, and I am still alive and well today.
 
So why did I make it and those 75 incidents had to suffer? The answer is simple. I did not switch the phone on between the ground and 10,000ft as per the publicly announced instructions. Why?
 
The aircraft had onboard Picocells, which are basically, mini-BTS, the stuff your mobile phone logs on to. The wonderful thing about the Picocell is that at 30,000ft, your phone does NOT go to full power and search for a far-away BTS to log on to, but after an initial scan, it will detect the Picocell, and latch on to it at low power. The risk of interference is therefore reduced to acceptable levels.
 
Airlines have to use certified equipment for on-board cellular service, which will not leak back RF energy into the aircraft onboard systems. Once that is equipped on the aircraft, the system has to prove that it will not interfere with critical systems when it is used. If during a particular phase of flight it does cause interference, then that system cannot be used during that particular phase of flight.
 
Now, this is why there is still that 10,000ft rule. Below 10,000ft, crew workload is high and they can do without any interference from these on-board wifi or cellular systems. The risks of interference also increases as you go lower because there is a higher chance that your phone would pick up a ground BTS instead of the onboard Picocell. Now that, could cause these problems that the 75 flights endured.
 
In this video interview, world leading journalist on In-Flight Connectivity, Mary Kirby of FlightGlobal, talked to AeroMobile CEO. It was revealed then (early April 2011, a mere few days before I took that Emirates flight), that over 5.5 million different Emirates customers had used the AeroMobile onboard cellular service. Not one of their flights, had to go through an interference incident (well, not that we hear of anyways)
 
If Emirates did not apply that 10,000ft rule, perhaps we’d have one as a smoking hole in the ground thanks to mobile phone interference by now. Thankfully, none has occured. I would put the clean record as a sign of passenger compliance to the rules set forth by Emirates on Onboard mobile phone use. The universal rule apply, follow the applicable policy of the airline you’re flying on!
 
Whether you believe that Daily Mail article as gospel or not, whether you are a smartphone internet & social media addict to the level that you need to constantly tweet and post a Facebook status every other minute or not, you are, in all countries, obliged by law to follow instructions of the crew. That includes whether or not you can use your mobile phone or not on that flight, and when you can, please follow the instructions on when you can and cannot use it! Our side of the deal as passengers really is that simple!
 
Throughout my career, I have been asked by journalists of various sorts to comment on a development, or an incident, or an accident. Whilst I enjoy all my encounters with good journalists (ie: objective but sharp in getting to the truth), I never enjoy being contacted by the bad ones (ie: subjective, not interested in the real truth, and agenda ridden!). What good journalists and I have in common is that we do like to get to the bottom of things and do so objectively. Therefore it irks me when I end up seeing a good journalist complaining about a piece of bad journalism, and when I agree with the former, sitting around and letting it go by might me betraying the truth, or at least MY truth (as this is my blog).
 
This is what ticked me off in the end, seeing:

@RunwayGirl: RT @sooneralison: Evidence of in-flight interference http://t.co/wZqJQu8 via @msnbc // A flawed article, with NO mention of pico cell tech

 
If that shortened link expired by the time you read this blog post, here it is Hang up and fly right: More evidence of in-flight interference
 
I tweeted the link to the Daily Mail article above, and the common word used to describe these two articles are:
SCAREMONGERING!(I’d never thought good journalists would use that phrase as well!)
 
No, this industry isn’t interested in putting your lives at risk. Aviation is like banking, once you lose trust, all hell breaks loose! The challenge for the In-flight Connectivity industry, and the aviation industry in general, is how to bring you the latest technologies to bring you more convenience, without putting your life at risk!
 
 
Now if you’re scared about high-speed internet bringing planes down from the sky, you should rethink about using some 4G internet service!
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1 Comment

  1. I’ve even heard that the systems of the aircraft interfere with themselves sometimes.

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