Alec Baldwin, left, spoofs his kerfuffle with American Airlines as...

Alec Baldwin, left, spoofs his kerfuffle with American Airlines as Capt. Steve Rogers offering booted-in-real-life passenger Alec Baldwin an apology during a comic appearance on "Saturday Night Live" with comic and the show's chief writer Seth Myers. Credit: NBC / Hulu

They may seem like silly rules -- turn off all cellphones and electronic devices during takeoffs and landings. And no cellphone use during flights.

Those are the rules "30 Rock" star Alec Baldwin was accused of breaking just before he was kicked off an American Airlines flight recently after refusing to power down.

But why all the fuss? Decades ago, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communications Commission determined that electronic devices could send signals that would interfere with the equipment on an airplane, officials said. Therefore, all electronic games, MP3 players and laptops have to be turned off until the plane gets above 10,000 feet. Cellphones can be used only in "airplane mode" for such activities as playing games or updating one's calendar.

Brent Bowen, head of the Department of Aviation Technology at Purdue University, says there is little research to show if electronic devices actually cause problems.

But that doesn't matter.

"It's a federal air regulation, and the crew is responsible for enforcing it," he said.

FAA officials would not discuss the use of electronics on airplanes, but instead sent a fact sheet explaining the rules. It states that there are too many unknowns about the radio signals that hand-held electronics and cellphones give off. At lower altitudes, any interference could be more of a safety hazard, since the pilot and cockpit crew need to focus on critical arrival and departure duties, the statement said.

As for Wi-Fi systems now available on some flights, manufacturers must obtain certification from the FAA, showing they do not interfere with the plane's systems anytime during flight.

Bowen said there have not been enough studies to determine whether the ban on electronic devices during takeoff and landing should be relaxed, and further studies are unlikely. "Why should we spend millions of dollars in research when you can just cut it off for 10 minutes?" he says.

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