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Subject: IP: Bluetooth risks airline safety?

  • From: David Farber <>
  • Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 05:26:12 -0400

>From: Bob Frankston []
>Sent: Friday, May 11, 2001 22:51
>To: Tom Worthington
>Cc: Risks Submissions; Dan Schwinn
>Subject: RE: Bluetooth risks airline safety?
>[Warning: Usual pro-risk, anti-airline rant. Hopefully I won't wear out my
>welcome but this one is an egregious example of confusing superstition with
>science. I've cc'ed Dan Schwinn since he has expertise here so it would be
>worth getting his response before posting.]
>I felt obliged to look at the Advisory Circular. It is a strange document
>that should make one very concerned about flying:
>* Rather than presenting evidence it has phrases like "it might be fair to
>* It says "there is no design standard to ensure that a PED (Personal
>Electronic Device) does not interfere with the operation of an aircraft."
>But makes no mention of the concept of any responsibility for keeping the
>planes flying. The total burden is on the passengers. In fact it says that
>it might not be possible to improve avionics because of weight
>considerations. Presumably the weight of devices I carry isn't an issue. And
>it wouldn't matter anywhere since such devices are simply presumed to be
>unsafe. Why are we using such vulnerable avionics anyway?
>* It presents an arbitrary list of electronic devices that are and are not
>== Portable Voice Recorders? What are these? Large tape recorders? If I have
>digital recorder, is that allowed?
>== Remote control devices? Does this include infrared?
>== Video Recorders? Does this include my digital camera that can do motion
>JPeg? Or my voice recorder enhanced with capture?
>== What about the myriad of other devices such as watches (which can be
>quite complex), cameras (film, digital etc), noise-canceling headsets?
>* The whole notion of solving this by telling people to shut off devices is
>irresponsible. It's one thing to make a list of complex rules for commercial
>environments and then blaming people if they are confused by the bad user
>interface. But you can't get away with telling civilians that they must
>watch every rule (especially even if the rules don't make sense). I no more
>think about whether my cell phone exists than I remember where I put my keys
>after I finish using them. And, increasingly, the radios will simply be
>embedded. In fact, I now have a PDA/Phone. While I do shut off the phone
>portion, it's also easy for it to accidentally turn it on In the future,
>such devices will just decide they need to communicate without even
>bothering with the idea that it has a radio inside.
>* Question. In an age where I can take a small cell phone out of my pocket
>and communicate both voice and data just about anywhere, why are avionics so
>very very fragile?
>Instead of assuring me that the airlines are very concerned about my safety,
>this goes along with the book, Fatal Words, in reminding me that these rules
>are perverse and arbitrary. The larger danger is in creating brittle systems
>rather than resilient one.
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Tom Worthington []
>Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2001 17:25
>Subject: Bluetooth risks airline safety?
>Digest: Bluetooth risks airline safety?
>An advertisement by Toshiba in the Australian Financial Review Monday 7 May
>2001 (page 10: "Portege 3490 with Bluetooth - always ready to network")
>suggests that Toshiba laptops can be routinely carried on aircraft switched
>on, with Bluetooth devices transmitting:
> > "Imagine two strangers, each carrying Bluetooth-enabled Portege 3490s ...
> > In a fraction of a second the Bluetooth module within each detects the
> > presence of the other. ... And complete strangers can start playing chess
> > together on long flights"
>Apart from being misleading as laptop computers are not designed to be left
>on while being carried, this appears at odds with routine airline practice
>requiring electronic devices to be switched off during take-off. The use of
>radio transmitters by passengers is usually prohibited at any time on an
>airline. This is discussed in the Draft Advisory Circular AC 91.22 (0),
>FEBRUARY 2000, "PORTABLE ELECTRONIC DEVICES" from the Australian Civil
>Aviation Safety Authority:
>In practice, Bluetooth's very low-power spread-spectrum transmitter would be
>unlikely to cause interference to an aircraft's systems. However, it would
>be unwise to encourage Bluetooth's use on airlines until this is accepted by
>airline safety authorities.
>PS: It is possible to use a transmitter in some aircraft. Particularly when
>it is a hot air balloon over Parliment and you have a Senator assisting
>PPS: More on wireless:
>Tom Worthington FACS; Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd ABN: 17 088 714
>; Vis.Prof AustralianNatlUniversity; Austrl. Computer

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