Are iPhones Dangerous on Planes?

Boeing Dreamliner Airplane Wing

Are Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones endangering the safety of commercial airplane flights? According to a Bloomberg report from earlier this week, electronic mobile devices have been wreaking all sorts of havoc with airplanes’ navigational systems for some time now. However, a careful reading of the article reveals that these alarming claims were not based on any concrete scientific evidence, but were instead based mostly on one pilot’s speculation about a particular incident.

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According to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System website, the 2011 incident involved a small regional airliner that experienced compass problems soon after takeoff. After a flight attendant instructed a passenger to shut off his iPhone, the “flight continued to the destination with no further problems.” However, even the pilot of that flight characterized his interpretation of the event as “speculation that cell phones left on may contribute to the heading problems” based on the fact that the “timing of the cell phone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved.”

Although incidents like this should be fully investigated, there is still no scientific evidence that mobile devices are interfering with a plane’s electronic systems, according to the Federal Aviation Administration via The New York Times. A recent joint study conducted by the Airline Passenger Experience Association and the Consumer Electronics Association says that 99 percent of adult airline passengers brought a “portable electronic device” with them on their flight.

Almost 70 percent of these passengers used their devices during their flights. However, even when they are asked to turn off their devices, almost 30 percent of these passengers admit that they still accidentally leave the devices on. Sixty-one percent of these devices are smartphones, which undoubtedly includes many iPhones.

Based on the sheer number of people flying every year, the incidents of iPhones interfering with a plane’s electronic systems should number in the millions. However, it appears that the only evidence for iPhones causing any electronic malfunctions on flights is based on anecdotal accounts and speculation.

While one should always follow flight attendants’ instructions regarding the use of mobile devices on airplanes, it seems that there is little to no basis for concerns about electronic device usage on flights — other than disturbing a neighboring passenger as he attempts to sleep through your game of Angry Birds.

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