You are here:

Aerospace/Aviation/Is there any evidence that a passenger using a GPS unit on an airplane is dangerous?


QUESTION: I emailed Delta Airlines about their GPS policy for passengers.  They said it's okay at cruising heights, but not take off or landing.  

I understand that since they're a private company, from a moral perspective they can make whatever rules they want.  It's just that I'm curious if they make that their policy just to be on the safe side, or if there is actual physical evidence it's dangerous?

Just curious.


My GPS unit

ANSWER: Hello,
I'm no avionics expert but I believe there is nothing dangerous about the use of a GPS during takeoff or landing. Pilots of small aircraft have been using handheld GPS units for years during all phases of flight, and I've yet to hear about "interference" with any electrical or navigational equipment in the airplane. Delta just cannot study each and every single portable electronic device passengers could bring onboard, so they (and the FAA) just say that you can't use any of them below 10,000' where the critical phases of flight occur. From my perspective as a pilot and not an avionics tehnician, this is essentially why all devices are banned.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So, is it a Delta Airlines or FAA regulation, for when taking off and landing?

ANSWER: Hi Nick,
It's basically both the FAA and Delta (or any airline).
Here's the FAA's rule:
If you read this, you see that no portable electronic devices are allowed at all with a few exceptions, unless the certificate holder (i.e. Delta, United, American, etc) has determined will not cause interference.
This Advisory Circular, which basically tells airlines how the FAA wants things done (but are not exactly legally binding) gives more information:
Particularly look at point 6.f. in the Advisory Circular I mentioned, and you will see why Delta and all the other airlines, prevent use of PEDs below 10,000'.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: So for example, could one ask the pilot when getting on the plane if GPS is allowed, and if the pilot were to give the passenger permission for below 10,000 ft, the FCC wouldn't be able to go after them in a criminal court for violating federal FCC law, if the passenger received permission? (Ex. the person were to publish online a map of the track the GPS recorded of where they went, with geotagged photos of looking out the window, and the FCC were to come across it on the website)

How easy is it to talk to the pilot before getting on a plane?  On passenger planes, is there a way to find out who the pilot is beforehand so you can email, or you have to talk to them in person when getting on, or nothing you can really do to talk?

Hi Nick,
You asked several questions which I will do my best to answer. First, while there is a FAA regulation that places the Pilot In Command (PIC) of the aircraft in the final authority as to how his aircraft is operated, that really doesn't mean he can do whatever he wants. Delta and all other airlines have many manuals that govern how they operate. These manuals are "blessed" by the FAA and so they become like the law of how that airline is run and conducts operations. I'm positive somewhere in Delta's operations manuals that they prevent use of portable electronic devices below 10,000'. So, a pilot who chooses to allow this is actually breaking airline and thus Federal regulations. The rule allowing the pilot final authority is typically only applied in flight safety issues. So, if there were a total navigation system failure (highly unlikely) a pilot could allow use of a GPS below 10,000' to help get the plane to a suitable airport.
Regarding asking a pilot ahead of time - you can certainly stick your head in the cockpit on boarding and ask the pilot, but he will be bound by the airlines' rule that prevents your using the device below 10,000'. I don't think that the FCC would care if you had permission as there wouldn't be any way to prove you did, and you would also be breaking the airlines' own rule. It's also about impossible to find out the pilot's name ahead if time unless you know someone in crew scheduling at the airline. And where I have worked, we weren't permitted to share that information with just anyone either.
Hope this is helpful!


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Laura Laster


I can help with questions about aviation disasters, aircraft operations especially general aviation and King Air information, aviation safety, and education questions on how to get into an aviation career. I can also answer general aviation questions as I am a commercial multi-engine pilot. I cannot answer questions about flight training or MBA schools in countries other than the USA or provide advice for non-US citizens interested in flight training. I cannot answer questions advising you what school to choose. I have no experience with aeronautical engineering so I cannot answer questions relating to engineering or schooling for aeronautical engineers. PLEASE don't ask me questions about any kind of engineering because it is outside my area of expertise, and I will NOT answer your question. I also cannot help you to choose a master's program for study as I do not have a master's degree in aviation. I cannot help with MBA advice.


I have been studying aviation disasters through doing my own research and a lot of reading since I was 13 or 14 years old. I am very interested in aviation safety and also am a commercial, multi-engine pilot. I am Director of Flight Operations at a private university working in the flight training department. I also have worked as an operations manager at a small charter airline and was involved in getting the airline certificated under Part 121 rules. I was formerly a flight operations division manager for a company operating a large fleet of King Air aircraft (60) and so I have some business aviation experience as well as having flight instructed for one year after college. My operations manager job frequently involved coordinating international projects for aerial survey clients and hiring qualified pilots to fly aerial survey missions.

Bachelor of Science, Aeronautical Science with Flight Management Concentration: LeTourneau University (2004) :: Dispatch Certificate: Sheffield School of Aeronautics (2010) :: Commercial Pilot: Single and Multi Engine Land, Instrument Rating :: Flight Instructor: Single, Multi and Instrument :: Ground Instructor: Basic and Advanced

©2017 All rights reserved.