Coming Soon: Terrorist Armed with a Wireless Mouse

by Devanshu Mehta

There is something wrong with this report, though I’m not sure what it is:

Passenger laptop computers are now being investigated as a possible cause of the Qantas mid-air emergency off Western Australia on Tuesday.

The Airbus A330-300, with 303 passengers and a crew of 10, experienced what the airline described as a “sudden change in altitude” north of its destination on Tuesday.

The mid-air incident resulted in injuries to 74 people, with 51 of them treated by three hospitals in Perth for fractures, lacerations and suspected spinal injuries when the flight bound from Singapore to Perth had a dramatic drop in altitude that hurled passengers around the cabin.

In July, a passenger clicking on a wireless mouse mid-flight was blamed for causing a Qantas jet to be thrown off course, according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s monthly report.

Can modern airplane electronics be so dramatically affected by wireless mice and laptops? If so, the airline industry is doomed- forget about taking off your shoes and all your 3oz liquid bottles in little ziploc baggies. The real threat is in every business traveler’s carry-on luggage.

Of course, there is something wrong here. I am not quite sure what- but either the Australian Transportation Safety Bureau is looking for an easy scapegoat or there is a gaping security hole in our airlines that should be bigger news. I’m guessing it’s the former.

There is some interesting discussion in this slashdot thread, including the following from “pla”:

This has nothing to do with “I want to use my laptop/DS/phone, so make me happy as the paying customer”, and everything to do with “if an unauthorized wireless mouse can bring down a plane, we need the entire fleet of such badly defective planes grounded and fixed yesterday“.

Seriously. Any system that can’t deal with weak RF interference needs to hit the scrapheap. In any other industry, we’d see the customers suing – Imagine if Ford said using a bluetooth headset in their vehicles violates your warranty… They’d go bankrupt overnight. Only the fact that the aviation industry has slowly boiled the frog, making us expect horrible customer service at unpredictable (but high) prices, allows any of the BS we’ve put up with for the past 20 years (and the shout-and-taze squads aside, the airlines had problems long before 9/11).

Well said.

UPDATE: A little more info from the FCC. Still doesn’t resolve anything.

UPDATE #2: Turns out it was faulty avionics, not passenger laptops, that caused the dive. No kidding.