Computer-Related Incidents with Commercial Aircraft
Do Passenger Electronics Interfere With Aircraft Systems?
With the increasing use by passengers of electronic systems such as
laptop computers, Gameboys, and (even though it's illegal almost
everywhere) portable personal telephones, coupled with
the increasing use of
electronics for safety-critical and safety-related aircraft systems,
there is concern about whether passenger electronics can interfere
with aircraft systems. Such concerns are borne out by an increasing
number of suspected-interference reports by line pilots --
FAA/NASA's ASRS, Europe's EUCARE and British Airways
BASIS reporting systems all contain anecdotes.
RTCA Special Committee 177 was formed in 1992 at FAA request
to investigate and try to substantiate these incidents,
but so far the interference
patterns seem to have resisted easy duplication in a laboratory.
Electromagnetic Interference with Aircraft Systems:
gives some background, and
collects comments and first-hand anecdotes from
colleagues, some of whom are professional pilots,
on some of the phenomena which need to be explained.
I also suggest some ways in which changes in the regulatory
environment might aid in reporting and investigating such
Albert Helfrick's short article, Avionics and Portable Electronics:
Trouble in the Air
Acrobat PDF, 26K
), which discusses some of the technical background,
appeared in Avionics News Magazine, September 1996.
In her article
The Fall of TWA 800:
The Possibility of Electromagnetic Interference,
New York Review of Books, Special Supplement, April 9, 1998, pp59-76
(also available at
Elaine Scarry proposed that EMI might have been a causal factor in the
crash of TWA800 in July 1996. I find this supposition highly implausible,
and I wrote a critique of her argument,
EMI and TWA800:
Critique of a Proposal, Report RVS-J-98-03,
on 10 April 1998.
NASA Office of Aeronautics Human Factors Division
Integrity of Navigation Data Used in FMS's