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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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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.

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