Pilots Suspect iPhone Interference in 2011 Airline Incident


An airline incident suggests that an iPhone may have caused interference with the flight equipment on a regional airliner, Bloomberg reports.


According to an unidentified co-pilot speaking with NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about a 2011 incident when compasses of the airplane went out of control at 9,000 feet, the moment of the iPhone being turned off coincided with the moment the heading problem was solved. In the end, the plane landed safely.

The regional airliner was climbing past 9,000 feet when its compasses went haywire, leading pilots several miles off course until a flight attendant persuaded a passenger in row 9 to switch off an Apple Inc. iPhone.

“The timing of the cellphone being turned off coincided with the moment where our heading problem was solved,” the unidentified co-pilot told NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System about the 2011 incident. The plane landed safely.

Public figures say there are more than necessary rules that restrict the use of tablets, smartphones, laptops and other devices during flights.

The problem is that a decade of pilot reports and scientific studies, and government and airline reporting systems tell another story. The airline reporting systems logged dozens of cases when consumer electronics were suspected of interfering with navigation.

The airline industry has been divided: Delta Air Lines has identified 27 suspect incidents of passenger electronics causing aircraft malfunctions (unverified), but United Continental Holdings argues for relaxed in-flight rules and welcomes consumer electronics, but the main reason is because the new rules would be difficult for flight attendants to enforce.

In the light of fresh approval for pilots’ iPads, the consumer electronics issue becomes timely: Delta and Alaska Air Group were using FAA guidelines to allow their pilots to switch from books to iPads, replacing the heavyweight paper manuals with electronic manuals.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits use of electronics while a plane is below 10,000 feet, with the exception of portable recording devices, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electric shavers.

The FAA has been leaning toward relaxing its current rules, which prohibit the use of iPhones, iPads and iPods, while the plane is under 10,000 feet. But the new regulation is under development. Hopefully, the rule will reach its final form by the end of the year.


  • Kind of doesn’t make sense, when airlines are now running iPads in their cockpits. Some of them the 3G/LTE versions. Fly by wire planes are suppose to operate at frequencies out side of the normal consumer carrier waves. So while wifi might have the issue, cellular shouldn’t. In any event they would have the issues more on the ground then in the air, as Airports are swamped with wireless and cellular traffic. So to have it in the air only is probably something else going on.

  • Some say they want people to turn these off so airline staff can ensure they have our complete attention in the event of an emergency.

  • Al

    “Yea, I know the plane is falling from the sky. Just let me finish this level of Angry Birds before you start the instructions on how to kiss my ass goodbye”.

  • FragilityG4

    So the compass was going crazy and the co-pilot called a flight attendant out of her/his seat, a FAA regulation on take off, and asked her/him to search the cabin for a guest using a phone. Once the guest and phone are found and turned off she/he returns to the cockpit to inform said co-pilot that it has been turned off. The co-pilot smiles and confirms that all is good and the compass is working — now aside from this being far from scientific, it appears to be a pretty unrealistic story … In the end I’m sure it’s all a coincidence.

  • Flaxx

    My thoughts exactly. 3G/LTE do not interfere with most equipment. The old 2G (Edge) certainly can, but only if it’s close to the equipment, speaker, or antenna. Passengers devices are not getting near any of those — only the pilot’s devices do.