Flying blinders

Just got into Chicago, and now I’m sitting in seat 4F, at the window, camera at my side, while the rest of the passengeriat boards the 737.

Beautiful view of Toronto, Hamilton, Southern Ontario, Lake Huron and Central Michigan after clearing the clouds in Central New York. Got some pix I’ll put up later.

Can’t get to my point, Have to turn this off. durn.

Okay, we’re en route to Atlanta, and permission has just been granted to use laptops and other “approved electronic devices”. These do not include “all electronic devices including two way radios using cellular wi-fi technology”. The technical among you will know that the last phrase was not written by a technical expert.

Anyway, my point, two paragraphs up, was that these prohibitions, while serious in one way, are silly in others. I’d bet that most of the open laptops on this plane have wi-fi on by default, putting out whatever little signal that involves. I have my wi-fi turned off, which spares the battery in any case.

More to my point about silliness, for the first time ever I was told by a flight attendant to turn off my camera, presumably because it is an “electronic device”. I can only assume, because I didn’t ask. Her pissy and reproachful tone made it clear that asking questions would not be helpful. So I complied. Meanwhile we crossed the north shore of Chicago, with brilliant fall colors and many scenes I would like to have shot, but alas. Not big as deals go, but still annoying. The risk to the aircraft caused by my shooting pictures out the window is exactly zero. The benefits to the airline exceed that, though perhaps not by much.

I’ll check when I get to the hotel, but I’ll bet that about half of the 17,000 or so pictures I’ve put up on Flickr were shot out of plane windows. (Later… 4303 are labeled “aerial”.) A lot are blah, but more than a few are pretty darn good. Including many shot on approach or take-off.

And now I’m in Atlanta, at Apachecon, working.

4 comments

  1. rjh’s avatar

    I’ve also been told to turn off electronic cameras. They are safe enough, but it’s hard to establish this and easy to tell everyone to shut down.

    The problem is that the risk is real. Field tests and less formal reports have confirmed that certain production runs of cell phones also jammed GPS. Some production runs of wireless mice jam other nav signals. Some damaged CD players were found to jam nav signals. There is enough redundancy and alternatives to keep the airplane in control, but intermittent jamming of navigation signals during takeoff and landing are a big enough risk that I agree with restricting the passengers.

    An undamaged WiFi is unlikely to be an issue because the WiFi band is already full of all sorts of ugly signals (e.g., microwave ovens and radars) and aviation electronics already protect against those. The risk will be from damaged systems that also broadcast on some other frequency.

  2. Mike Warot’s avatar

    Taken from http://www.navcen.uscg.gov/cgsic/meetings/EISubcommittee/2005_presentations/06%20Vulner%20PRA.ppt (and pasted here to avoid Windows/PowerPoint)

    Jamming in Moss Landing Harbor, CA
    15 Apr 01 – 22 May 01, VHF/UHF television antenna with pre-amplifier caused GPS failures to all of Moss Landing Harbor
    Boat owner purchased TV antenna, which was equipped with pre-amp
    From interior location Amp’s emitter jammed all of Moss Harbor and 1km out to sea
    No GPS in entire area = 37 days
    Impact to Moss Harbor
    Research vessels relied heavily on timing from GPS
    Extreme difficulty going through harbor in foggy conditions
    Notification to all vessels in area that GPS was down
    Switched back to radar control for harbor entrances

  3. Mike Warot’s avatar

    oh.. and to add to the previous (I gotta learn patience before I hit SUBMIT)… and I gotta learn it now!

    Your camera has a microprocessor and a ton of high speed digital stuff going on in it. Like RJH said, it’s not the intentional transmitters we need to worry about.

    Yes, it’s pretty here in Chicago today, too bad you didn’t get to take the pictures. It’s a tradeoff.

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