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Whenever I travel by air, there is always at least one passenger who petulantly argues with the cabin crew about turning off his mobile phone. Many business people who expect work-related messages ignore the warning and keep their smart phones hidden but still on. Can one phone cause an airplane to crash?
They think not.
But it is possible. Mobile devices use radio waves to connect to the internet and to networks. If these radio waves are on similar frequency to that used by the airplane for its own avionics, it is theoretically possible that the interference could cause certain parts of the aircraft to misbehave.
Peter Ladkin, Professor of Computer Networks and Distributed Systems at Bielefeld University, Germany, uses the analogy of holding a blowtorch to your household heating pipes. The central heating system of your house uses the temperature of the pipes to make changes to itself, so if you artificially heat up the water in your heating pipes, your central heating system will get ‘confused’ and make ‘mistakes’.
Similarly, using our mobile phones and other devices could potentially ‘confuse’ the on-board intelligence system that keeps the aircraft in the air. And since the danger of such confusion is much higher on an airplane, cabin crews err on the side of safety and caution.
There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that this process is real. On numerous occasions, readings on aircraft sensors changed for the better after passengers turned off their electronic devices, and took a turn for the worse after they were turned back on. Though proper scientific evidence is missing, there is enough evidence to make people nervous.
So when you’re flying next, be good and listen to the air hostesses. They have your safety at heart.

Chirag Thakkar

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