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The FCC has terminated its proposal inquiry to relax cell phone ban laws, but FAA regulations still run the show anyway

In December 2004 the Federal Communications Commission launched an inquiry to rescind or relax its ban on 800MHz-band cellular phones aboard in-flight aircraft.  In addition to lifting the ban, the study also investigated the feasibility of using pico-cells and other technology to boost coverage in-flight communication via mobile devices.

In a release today, the FCC announced it has terminated the 2004 study (PDF).  Some aspects of the study, such as technical solutions to physically allow cellular phones to function on aircraft, were deemed a success.  The FCC states that its advisory arm has conducted extensive research into the hazards of in-flight usages, with potential solutions as well.  These findings will be published by mid-2007.

However, even if the FCC were to reverse its ban, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration still has a long standing policy prohibiting usage of transmitting electronics in-flight.  While the FCC's in-flight ban is largely credited to air-to-ground interference, the FAA's ban on cell phones is due to the hazard of air-to-air and in-cabin interference.

The FAA's mobile device guidelines at least partially influenced the FCC's decision to abandon its exploratory research.  "The Commission also noted that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits the use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) on airborne aircraft," the FCC stated. "Given the lack of technical information in the record upon which we may base a decision, we have determined at this time that this proceeding should be terminated."

There is still a loophole in the FCC and FAA bans.  Aircraft-specific services, like Connexion, may operate under the spectrums allocated by the two agencies.

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By staypuff69 on 4/4/07, Rating: 0
RE: HUH????
By jtesoro on 4/4/2007 5:15:03 AM , Rating: 3
No, the FCC isn't saying that it's harmful or not. The purpose of the study is to find that out. Note that the context of "harmful" as far as they are concerned is whether it interferes with cellular systems on the ground. The results of the study is inconclusive but they still are taking the position against use because of the potential for ground interference.

Similarly, the FAA also prohibits use use of cell phones while an aircraft is flying, but the rationale is the potential to affect on board navigation systems. I think there are other studies ongoing to see if this concern is valid.

These studies are being done because a lot of people want to use their cell phones while in flight. While I'm not sure where I stand on aircraft phone use, I think the studies are not a waste of time and money.

RE: HUH????
By alifbaa on 4/4/2007 6:11:23 PM , Rating: 3
These studies are a good thing. I'm a professional pilot, and I can't tell you how many times we've needed information in the air and have had a hard time doing it over the radio only to find that our cell phones work just fine. I've never noticed the slightest blip in our instrumentation, nor should there be since cell phones operate at such a low power compared to our comms radios, nav radios, radar, electronics, generators, and god knows what other EMI generating devices we have on board. I guarantee you no one has ever tested all the different makes and models of microwaves the stewardesses use in all the different combinations of aircraft and avionics to see if they interfere with anything, and those are a hell of a lot more powerful than the even the most powerful cell phone.

When cell phones came along, and this rule came out, I saw a video where a technician took an ILS reciever out of a plane, put it on a test bench, took the cover off, and then was able to generate interference with a cell phone a foot away and transmitting. As soon as he put the cover back on, the interference was eliminated, which is what the cover is designed to do. Essentially, cell phones are "portable transmission devices" which fit into a pre-defined category of things the FAA won't allow.

Rather than think about it or test it, the FAA disallows it, thus proving their necessity in the aviation marketplace. In short, this rule is a fine example of the FAA bureaucratic bullsh!t we in the industry have to deal with every day.

RE: HUH????
By glitchc on 4/4/2007 5:17:33 AM , Rating: 2
Cellphone frequencies may not be safe on aircrafts currently, but if/when inflight WiFi (aka Connexion) becomes available, VOIP-capable devices are definitely an option..

I know Boeing unplugged Connexion at the end of '06, but something else might pop up.

RE: HUH????
By defter on 4/4/2007 5:39:55 AM , Rating: 2
It's quite funny how Wifi operating at 2.4GHz is completely safe for aircrafts, but cell phones operating at almost the same frequency (e.g. 3G phones use 2.1GHz) are veeeery dangerous...

RE: HUH????
By yacoub on 4/4/2007 6:59:45 AM , Rating: 3
That's because "dangerous" to them equates to "the service would be poor and calls more likely to be dropped, and the call would be jumping from cell site to cell site too quickly for our nodes to handle and thus might screw up billing." (The billing issue being the part they care most about.)

RE: HUH????
By stromgald on 4/4/2007 11:52:07 AM , Rating: 4
It's also important to note that cell phones aren't banned from civil aviation where the phone and its signals would be right in the cockpit. The electronics are probably less shielded in the Cessnas and Pipers also. In reality, there's no technical reason not to use cell phones or pagers on board aircraft. It's more human issues.

RE: HUH????
By Ringold on 4/4/2007 3:42:48 PM , Rating: 2
My own cell phone isn't bad, thankfully, but other people with various models that I've taken flying with me in Cessna's have caused some noise interference on the radio that can't be squelched out.

That's about all I've noticed, though. Then again, some things, like a slight GPS error, VOR or NDB error, or the likes would be impossible to notice in small amounts, but 'small amounts' and a fuzzy radio shouldn't take a plane with a competent pilot out of the sky. I agree, it's a human issue as much as anything, though the fact that it does cause some minor problems may have the FAA erring on the side of caution I suppose.

RE: HUH????
By Sartori42 on 4/4/2007 5:38:47 AM , Rating: 3
You may not have known the exact real-world effects of cell phone usage on an aircraft's circuits with a study like this. And different aircraft will undoubtedly have different vulnerabilities.

Why use a cell phone in flight? Why use one at all, ever? Somehow people survived (and even procrated!) before cell phones, but now some people are never without a connection. Look at the folks with those little headsets permanently attached to their heads. So, the world progresses and people begin to feel that there shouldn't be ANYWHERE that they are out of contact. Maybe for business, maybe for personal reasons. Whatever. Time goes on. People want more convenience.

Also, I think the idea was to try to find a way to give consumers the convenience without causing a safety issue. Without an in-depth study, the solution may elude them. What if you could have both inexpensive communications capability and in-flight safety? What if the results had been different? Would the study then have been worth it?

So, even tho the study didn't produce the "happy answer", you needed the study to learn the facts.

RE: HUH????
By alifbaa on 4/4/2007 7:46:21 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, from my reading of the article, the "happy answer" is exactly what the study produced, which is why they finished the study. I think the title is poorly worded because the author failed to understand what the study was actually trying to do and was capable of affecting.

RE: HUH????
By GmanMD on 4/4/2007 7:11:14 AM , Rating: 3
Have any of you thought about a plane full of people yapping away on their cell phones? I for one am glad that cell phones are prohibited on flights. People can survive a few hours without speaking to someone. Also, I don't want someone who can call up a bomb in the luggage compartment. Keep it difficult to make calls on planes.

RE: HUH????
By rocketcuse on 4/4/2007 9:22:57 AM , Rating: 2
Cell phone disputes are always funny. Just like... is the glass 1/2 full or 1/2 empty?

Few people mention about having X amount of people yapping on the cell during flight.

I must fly on the wrong airline(s) or at the wrong times because I have yet to have a flight without a constant chatter. Granted, my flights are typically about 3-4 hours at most and on 717's class planes. Some 737's.

RE: HUH????
By 91TTZ on 4/4/2007 1:31:28 PM , Rating: 2
A cell phone ban isn't going to stop someone from detonating a bomb with a cell phone.

Just think about it: if a person is willing to blow up the plane that they're on, do you really think that they'll care about breaking a minor rule such as operating a phone while in flight?

RE: HUH????
By FITCamaro on 4/4/2007 2:25:13 PM , Rating: 1
Perhaps. But if you were going to detonate a bomb on a plane with a phone, would you get on the plane? And I'm pretty sure all bags are scanned for active electronics signatures. So it's not like you can just put a bomb in a bag with an active receiver. Even if it was in sleep mode, I'd hope bags are scanned throughly enough that the equipment would be picked up.

Also, if you were on the plane, the person sitting next to you or in the row next to you, would kind of notice you messing with your cell phone. Granted it doesn't take long for you to turn on your phone, type in a number, and hit send. All the same, I'd prefer the ban to stay in place.

RE: HUH????
By stromgald on 4/4/2007 2:32:49 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know what airlines you've been flying on, but nobody's going to stop anyone from opening a cell phone, punching in a number, and hitting talk. They tell everyone to turn off their cell phones, but in reality, you can just leave it on in your pocket. The likelihood of anybody stopping you in time is very small.

Also, they don't scan for active electronics. I put active cell phones and pagers through the machines every time, and I doubt checked bags are different. They check for explosives more than active electronics since active electronics could be a plethora of benign things.

RE: HUH????
By alifbaa on 4/4/2007 7:48:18 PM , Rating: 2
Instead of using a cell phone that may or may not have reception, wouldn't you just use a kitchen timer? That's what they use in Iraq a lot, and it seems to work great there.

Thank god
By FITCamaro on 4/4/2007 7:31:18 AM , Rating: 4
I don't know about you. But if I'm crammed onto an aircraft, the last thing I want is 50 different people talking on their cell phone. Airplanes are one of the few refuges where people can't talk on them. Now granted. I have a cell phone and only a cell phone. But I can live without using one for a few hours at a time. The only time I see them being possibly needed is on long flights to Asia. My uncle is a high up at Motorola who's always flying to China and Japan and I'm sure sometimes he'd like to access certain features of his phone (the email portion).

But me personally, I hope the ban stays up. The last thing I need is some a-hole sitting next to me for an hour chatting away on his cell phone. Or Achmed to be coordinating another 9/11 style attack with someone on the ground.

RE: Thank god
By novacthall on 4/4/2007 7:58:17 AM , Rating: 5
My sentiments exactly.

As of right now, 30,000 feet up is the only place I can go to be free of my, and more importantly everyone else's, cellular phone. I accept and embrace the pressurized aluminum cylinder sanctuary in the sky.

RE: Thank god
By Diesel Donkey on 4/5/2007 1:00:12 AM , Rating: 2
Going out in the woods works pretty well, too :)

RE: Thank god
By bysmitty on 4/4/2007 8:52:10 AM , Rating: 2
Amen. I don't care if they interfere with other electronics or not; cell phones on planes would interfere with my sanity.


RE: Thank god
By kalak on 4/4/2007 9:14:28 AM , Rating: 2
The last thing I need is some a-hole sitting next to me for an hour chatting away on his cell phone.

I agree. When I have to take a bus travel, it's really annoying that people screaming on the phone.... uughhh !!!

in flight VOIP
By Lazarus Dark on 4/4/2007 6:18:55 AM , Rating: 2
How about free calls on the plane?
That would be a nice gesture to all the people paying a couple hundred bucks on a flight. It wouldn't take too much to route those credit card phones through skype instead. Those credit card charges are rediculous in this day and age. Data transmission has become much cheaper and getting cheaper all the time, there is no excuse for those inflight phone costs, plane or not.

RE: in flight VOIP
By jtesoro on 4/4/2007 6:31:41 AM , Rating: 2
I think they'll look at WiFi, pico sites and similar connectivity technologies as another revenue source first before seriously considering giving their use away.

Across the Atlantic-its YES
By crystal clear on 4/4/2007 8:23:11 AM , Rating: 1
FCC Says 'No' To Cell Phones On Airplanes, But Europe Says 'Yes'

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin on Thursday told reporters that his agency would give up looking into whether to approve the use of cell phones on airplanes. An opposite situation is under way in Europe, however, where regulatory agencies are working to pave the way for cell phone use on commercial aircraft.

"It's going through the approval process right now," said Charlie Pryor, a London-based spokesman for OnAir, a planned mobile phone service sponsored by European aircraft manufacturer Airbus. "We expect some decisions within a month."

The Europeans have been testing their system for months and Pryor said Friday that certification is being reviewed by the European Aviation Regulatory Authority. Another process involves the use of radio spectrum, being studied by the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations. CEPT has been working to coordinate some 44 European nations so they can allocate spectrum for mobile phone service providers.

Efforts by U.S. firms to provide in-flight phoning and Internet access for e-mail services and Web browsing have thus far been unsuccessful. In the most publicized effort, Boeing dropped an ambitious effort after spending a reported $1 billion.;j...

RE: Across the Atlantic-its YES
By stromgald on 4/4/2007 11:48:56 AM , Rating: 3
If you talk to almost any aero engineer, they will tell you that cell phone usage on a plane is not hazardous to the aircraft electronics or the safety of the aircraft. If it truly was, they would confiscate your cell phone before you boarded. I've left cell phones on in luggage that was put in the overhead compartment with zero issues.

However, I don't think it's so much a technical issue, but a human issue. It's a matter of controlling communications, noise levels, and behavior on aircraft. When you're crammed in such tight quarters, having so many people chatting on phones can be disturbing to say the least.

By Mitch101 on 4/4/2007 9:19:20 AM , Rating: 2
I remember a manage that was on a flight who's blackberry was causing the plane to think there was a fire issue. It was an early model RIM device. Dont know 100% if it was true or not you know how urban legends start but I would hope that these systems were more hardwired and then had some sort of better system identification.

RE: Blackberry
By alifbaa on 4/4/2007 7:52:14 PM , Rating: 2
I obviously don't know the specifics of the situation, but every fire detection system I've ever heard of is either a simple smoke detector in the bathroom or a bi-conductive wire wrapped around the engine. Hardly anything that would respond to EMI.

By OxBow on 4/4/2007 9:41:25 AM , Rating: 2
The article explicitly states that the study found solutions for the technical, interference, issues of using cell phones. But they still won't allow them because?...

Then they say they have no problem with Connexion and similar services. Seems to me like they're protecting the companies that provide in-flight calls and charge $7+/minute.

By alifbaa on 4/4/2007 8:00:00 PM , Rating: 2
Most of those in-flight call services have been removed. The airlines found they weren't producing enough revenue to justify the costs in maintenance, weight, and licensing. The reason the FAA doesn't allow it is because they have a rule stating that scheduled airline flights must prohibit the use of portable transmission devices while the aircraft is in flight. In reality, cell phones have only ever been proven to cause problems with instrumentation removed from the aircraft and taken out of its EMI shielding container. What's more, the literally hundreds of different EMI producing devices all over an aircraft have never been tested for interference yet are allowed to operate whenever and however they want to. Think, for instance, about the radar. On my plane, we have a 1500watt radar mounted 3 feet in front of the cockpit, right next to where the navigation radio tuners are mounted. It operates on a frequency far closer to navigation and communication radio frequencies at an infinitely higher power and was never tested for interoperability with anything else on the aircraft. It doesn't cause a problem because the tuners are shielded.

The reason the FAA doesn't allow cell phones is because they are too bureaucratic and lazy not to.

By Spivonious on 4/4/2007 12:44:51 PM , Rating: 2
Do we really need to be connected to the world at every moment of the day? Use your flight time to relax and "disconnect". If it's truly an emergency, then it's worth the $5/minute air phone call.

By bbomb on 4/4/2007 9:28:25 PM , Rating: 2
We all know that America will NEVER allow cellphones on planes because the telcos want to FORCE you to pay their $2/minute to use the on-plane phones.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates

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