One of the first things you learn in this modern life is that rules and regulations don't have to make sense. Not that making sense is a bad thing; it's just not required. For an example, let's look at the government regulations and airline rules governing the use of mobile electronic devices on airplanes.
We've heard a lot about this issue lately, but the source of the stories and the "evidence" used to support each side of an ongoing debate are sources more of entertainment than edification. First, the actor Alec Baldwin was kicked off a commercial flight for refusing to stop playing "Words With Friends" on his mobile device after the flight attendant asked him to turn it off. Now, there's no question that he violated FAA rules about device use (and obeying the orders of a flight crew member), so the airline's right to toss him off the plane isn't in question. The question comes in the justification for the rules themselves.
Airplane manufacturer Boeing offered evidence to support the takeoff and landing ban. It seems straightforward enough: If using a device could cause everyone on the plane to die, then it shouldn't be used. Then again, maybe things aren't so cut-and-dried.
While we were still digesting the news about Baldwin's apparent death wish in the sky, word came that American Airlines pilots are cleared to use iPads in flight -- even during takeoff and landing. While the WiFi functionality must be turned off, other functions can still be used in a program the airline says will promote safety and efficiency. This has led any number of folks to ask why the same devices that promote safety in the cockpit cause death and destruction in coach.
One of the people asking that question is Nick Bilton of The New York Times. He had a lab test the RF emissions from an Amazon Kindle. They found that the emissions were negligible -- lower than the emissions from some devices (like a portable voice recorder) that are allowed during takeoff and landing. Hmmm.
The fact is that any electronic device, if it's not properly maintained and functioning, can emit RFI (radio frequency interference). While the navigation systems of commercial airplanes are shielded against RFI, there exists a theoretical possibility that a broken device could cause an issue. Ultimately, though, it comes down to risk assessment and mitigating factors. Right now, the FAA has decided that the mitigating factors don't outweigh the risks. I suspect that their calculus will change in the next year, or that they'll come up with new reasons to require passengers to keep the devices turned off until the airplane has climbed above 10,000 feet.
For CIOs charged with keeping a mobile workforce plugged in, it means that there's going to be a half hour or so at either end of a flight when the employee is just not connected. You might suggest that the employee use the time to read something on paper, meditate to lower stress and blood pressure, or get to know the passenger seated only millimeters from his elbow. It's just the cost of modern-day air travel.