Print 56 comment(s) - last by elgoliath.. on Oct 10 at 1:29 PM

Just say no; that is the FAA's stance on cell phones on planes.

Ever since cell phones first became popular, a constant among almost every airplane flight has been an order to turn off your cell phones.  These orders have been courtesy of the in-flight ban on mobile phones by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), the government body which oversees air travel in the U.S.

Many saw this ban as an unnecessary inconvenience, given that little actual scientific investigation had been conducted into fears of interference.  There were numerous proposals to lift the ban or to possibly allow special lower power phones designed to work in the air.

Now FAA officials have announced that due to public outcry, they will be dropping the proposals to lift the ban and announced that the ban would stay in place for "the foreseeable future."

While the FAA cited public outrage as justification for leaving the ban in place, the announcement follows research from last year investigating the phenomena.  Last year, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study which was featured in the IEEE Spectrum publication.  The study, surprisingly, was thought to be the first of its kind.  It found that portable radio frequency emitting devices such as cell phones could easily cause interference in onboard instruments, such as the GPS, greatly raising the risk of accident or other flight difficulties.

Still, the FAA relied mostly on public opinion on the issue and showed no indication of being swayed by these recent studies.

In Britain, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Britain's equivalent of the FAA, found 20 incidents of airplane malfunction between January 2000 and August 2005, which it deemed caused by cell phones.

Despite these result, the European Aviation Safety Agency approved the use of in-flight mobile phones provided by the communications company ON Air. These devices transmit weaker signals, hopefully yielding less interference.  Air France, Tap Air Portugal, and Rayanair are among the European air carriers planning to adopt the technology.

Internationally, many carriers including Emirates and AirAsia are planning to adopt this technology as well.

In Britain there has been a large grassroots movement to block potential introduction of cell phones on planes.  Among the movements backers is British parliament member Lee Scott, who is very much against these approvals and sees the phones as possible security threats.  "The Madrid train bombs in 2004 were set off by mobile phone,” Scott elaborated. "What will be the security implications of everyone having mobiles switched on at 30,000 [feet]? It can only put even greater pressure on airport security staff."

As world powers ponder on this issue, the truly facet of this issue is the lack of peer-reviewed scientific research on this topic, which obviously has greatly implications on citizens’ daily lives.

Hopefully in the future, this topic will be more thoroughly researched and possibly mobile phones can be built to someday safely operate within the airplane electronic environment.  While some may dream of using their cell phones on planes, for now, they will continue to be banned on American flights for the near future ... even on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

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Public outcry
By Brandon Hill on 10/9/2007 9:05:48 AM , Rating: 5
I can understand the public outcry. It's one thing to hear babies crying around the cabin, but to add some wanker yapping on his cell phone would just be the icing on the cake. That along with the cramped seating and the stingy portions of snacks and drinks they give you.

One thing that I can almost count on a plain is the silence... relatively speaking that is if you take out the wind and engine noise. Most people just shut up and go to sleep or whisper softly to each other.

I can just see cell phones changing all of this.

That being said, they ARE banning cell phones, but what about VoIP calling? A number of airliners are implementing WiFi on planes for launch in 2008 (IIRC). Would airliners specifically block applications like Skype, or would passengers have free reign to yap? After all, they aren't using a "mobile phone"

RE: Public outcry
By Master Kenobi on 10/9/2007 9:17:54 AM , Rating: 4
I usually pack a book and just read. No need for cell phones on the plane, if its important they can leave me a voice mail and I will respond as soon as I get to my destination.

RE: Public outcry
By FITCamaro on 10/9/2007 9:17:57 AM , Rating: 2
I'm with you man. The last thing I want on a flight is to listen to someone go on and on for hours on their phone while sitting next to me. A plane shouldn't sound like the New York Stock Exchange. Give us our peace and quiet in this one place. I don't want some ditzy 16 year old chick sitting next to me for 2 hours saying "like" every other sentence.

As far as wifi, I hope they block the programs. I'm sure some people will find a way around it, but that'll stop most people.

RE: Public outcry
By Etsp on 10/9/2007 9:34:22 AM , Rating: 5
You like, totally are like underestimating like, how often teenagers use like.

RE: Public outcry
By FITCamaro on 10/9/2007 9:54:37 AM , Rating: 2
When I was in middle school and high school they did. And my point was I don't want some young twit chatting away next to me (or near me) for all to hear. Much less a few dozen of them. Or anyone else talking on the plane for that matter.

What happens when you get the guy who finds out on the plane that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his friend who's sitting next to him? Don't say it won't happen.

When I'm on a plane, I just want to sit there in peace and quiet if I so choose. Or be able to read a book or watch a movie/TV show on my laptop with headphones on.

RE: Public outcry
By Bluestealth on 10/9/2007 4:54:48 PM , Rating: 2
What happens when you get the guy who finds out on the plane that his girlfriend is cheating on him with his friend who's sitting next to him? Don't say it won't happen.

The guy gets all pissed off and punches his friend in the next seat, flight attendants come by and try to stop the fight. One of the attendants gets shoved, more flight attendants/air marshal come, they fail to restrain the guy. The pilot initiates an emergency landing at the nearest airport, and police officers come on board and tazer the guy, filling the cabin with the smell of burnt flesh. Eventually after police statements have been given and the local news has talked to everyone you take off and land at your original destination 5 hours late.

Or he could break down and start crying...

RE: Public outcry
By spluurfg on 10/9/2007 11:52:34 AM , Rating: 2
You're lucky, I've never had anybody below the age of 35 sit next to me on a plane... unless they were a travel companion of course... and people don't have to be on the phone to be going on and on for hours at a high volume. This happened to me from Finland to London once... it was insane. Some woman behind me would not stop talking at a tremendous volume for the entire flight. The lady next to me wanted to turn to them and ask them to shutup. There isn't much one can do about others being inconsiderate sometimes... thank god for headphones.

RE: Public outcry
By ebakke on 10/9/2007 12:51:33 PM , Rating: 2
There isn't much one can do about others being inconsiderate sometimes...

Except of course to tell them they're being inconsiderate and ask them to stop. If you don't ask them to stop, you have no place complaining to us.

RE: Public outcry
By spluurfg on 10/9/2007 4:47:20 PM , Rating: 2
My point was that inconsideration isn't strictly relegated to cell phone usage, not to find an outlet to complain. As far as that particular situation went, I felt it wasn't worth trying to figure out if they understood English, which unfortunately is the only language I speak, or finding out if they'd be offended by calling them inconsiderate when I suppose that one arguably has every right to have a conversation on a daytime flight. The same is true of a baby or small child crying. Inconsiderate? I suppose. Is there much one can do about it? Not really.

RE: Public outcry
By ebakke on 10/9/2007 6:04:18 PM , Rating: 2
I think making the choice to speak loudly on a plane is vastly different than not being able to convince your baby to stop crying.

I still stand by my argument - you can't complain unless you've done everything (or something) in your power to fix the problem.

RE: Public outcry
By nitrous9200 on 10/9/2007 3:53:13 PM , Rating: 2
Thank god for noise canceling headphones! :)
We've all had our fair share of babies crying, people kicking, etc. I picked up a pair of cheap Maxell noise canceling headphones for about $25 and they do work great. No need to spend hundreds on bose headphones which are probably made in china with the same crappy components as knockoff brands.

RE: Public outcry
By euclidean on 10/9/2007 1:10:21 PM , Rating: 2
We've been talking about it at work with the WiFi...our corporate guys are already wanting to setup Netmeeting so they can use it for conference calls and such while on the plain when they have to fly from the US to other countries...Just what I need are more VIP calls beacuse the user can't connect to another person's netmeeting when they're on a 2+ hour flight :\.

RE: Public outcry
By markitect on 10/9/2007 1:56:35 PM , Rating: 2
Don't forget the people that think you have to yell in a cell phone for it to work, or worse yet a combination of both, the soccer mom.

RE: Public outcry
By Oregonian2 on 10/9/2007 2:08:38 PM , Rating: 2
You probably do have to yell at a phone in a plane unless the cell phone itself has really good noise canceling features.

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 2:26:38 PM , Rating: 2
That's right - I think people sitting in front of their computers forget how noisy flights actually are.

RE: Public outcry
By Verran on 10/9/2007 9:29:45 AM , Rating: 2
I agree. My biggest concern is the noise pollution that gets into my ears, and not the navigational interference.

Flying is uncomfortable enough without some idiot belting out the drunken details of the preceding night's frat party into his two-way right next to me. It's bad enough having to hear people yack incessantly into their cellphones about nothing at every turn in my daily life. Airplanes are the last bastion of silence. Let's keep it that way.

RE: Public outcry
By crystal clear on 10/9/2007 9:38:08 AM , Rating: 1
Most people just shut up and go to sleep or whisper softly to each other.

Talking about going to sleep........reminds me of a flight,
TLV-NY ....had a guy next to me snoring all the way.

He just never stopped !

The plane was full & NO empty seats around to switch.

Better to have a guy talking on the phone than one snoring !

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 9:43:48 AM , Rating: 3
I agree with you guys, but I would also like to point out that it is certainly not the FAA's job to pass rules to enforce good manners, comfort, and convenience. Their job is to focus on safety, and from what I see here, they have failed to do their job completely.

Why is it acceptable that they have apparently done zero testing for interference? Have they passed any regulations whatsoever that harden in-flight systems against RFI/EMI susceptability? They are basing rule-making on "public outcry" - how responsible is that?

I get the impression that the FAA's approach is to wait for a flight to come down before they take action and actually get "real data" on this issue.

RE: Public outcry
By Locutus465 on 10/9/2007 10:08:06 AM , Rating: 3
I doubt this has anything to do with passenger comfort.... EFF from a cell phone receiving/making a call can have a devestating effect on airplane avionics if they are not perfectly sheilded.... Considering the life span of the average airplane, and wear and tear over the years... I'm glad the FAA is more concered with keeping planes in the sky rather than letting people cheap out on the in plane phone and use their own cell...

RE: Public outcry
By Lord 666 on 10/9/2007 10:19:12 AM , Rating: 2
Silence? I don't know how many flights you are on, but I spend a decent amount of time up in the air for business. More ofen than not there is a lot of chatter of converstations with people sitting next to each other. What difference does it make if the chatter is into a cellphone vs. a nearby passenger?

Not enabling cellphone usage is nonsense. While up in the air, those are billable hours and time wasted that I can be conducting business. Not having access to my mobile phone is what I dread the most of air travel.

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 10:36:19 AM , Rating: 2
I agree with you - FAA should pass rules based on scientific/engineering fact and evidence, not based on "public outcry" or some desire to "protect" people from chatty cell phone users.

RE: Public outcry
By elgoliath on 10/9/2007 1:47:32 PM , Rating: 1
Just for the sake of argument, I believe Mythbusters (not the best testing example, but they've done more than the FAA it would appear) ran these exact tests and were unable to cause any interference with onboard navigation systems even after jacking the power up way past anything a cellphone could produce. And this was done to an old plane as well as a fairly new one.

Regarding the people that are scared about it affecting older planes that have been in service a while, I really don't see your point. If the plane is that old, it should not be in the air, much less servicing passengers. Not to mention that I can't really think of a reason as to why the shielding would be getting worn in the first place- they aren't moving objects.

It seems to me that the FAA could easily add sufficiently test the planes and make them pass a test to qualify for cellphone use that has to be renewed every so often if people are really that concerned about the shielding breaking down.

IMO, this FAA decision sounds like a load of crap and is just like what the administration is doing- leading by fear.

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 2:25:35 PM , Rating: 2
I think we're 100% in agreement - did you perhaps reply to the wrong post?

RE: Public outcry
By elgoliath on 10/9/2007 2:51:19 PM , Rating: 2
Why yes I did- itchy mouse finger ftw :P

RE: Public outcry
By Locutus465 on 10/9/2007 3:00:55 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, I saw this and what I think you missed two key facts in this episode...

1). When unsheilded electroics was tested the effects were devistating (or would be for an airplane in the sky).
2). In the same episode they cite a European incident where an passanger with an active cell phone recieved a call, causing the plane to crash... The passanger didn't even need to answer the call, the incoming call was enough to spike EMI significantly, damage done.

RE: Public outcry
By elgoliath on 10/9/2007 3:34:53 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't miss them- I never said they wouldn't affect unshielded electronics. Which commercial passenger planes out there have unshielded electronics? If there are some, then either A) they should not be used for passengers or B) they should be repaired/replaced.

If you refer to my earlier post, testing the planes should alleviate the issue cited from Europe. Besides, I'd be willing to bet that your #2 statement is directly related to #1.

Let me ask you this- would you want to go up in a commercial plane with unshielded electronics, cell phone or not?

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 3:54:12 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, and I would go one step further. Avionic electronics that are susceptable to reasonable RF emissions/interference from the types of consumer devices that are routinely used in and around aircraft are defective by design . The FAA rulemaking should focus on proper design standards for these devices, not on banning cell phones from flight. The former can actually have a significant positive effect on safety, while the latter cannot.

RE: Public outcry
By Locutus465 on 10/9/2007 8:28:25 PM , Rating: 2
I never stated that there is any airplane *designed* with unshielded electronics, but things wear down over time. There's really nothing you can do about the fact that things wear down over time, and no matter how good your maintenance plans and QA processes ensuring quality work are, things can slip through the cracks. We already know this to be the case, it's already proven, we've already seen airplane crash due to EMI generated by an incoming cell phone call.

I'm not suggesting by any means that this is the norm, clearly it is not or I'm sure airplanes would be falling out of the sky every day. But frankely, I don't want to be on the airplane that crashes because one of our fellow DT readers was trying to squeeze in one last deal while en-route to whereever. Failour in most aspects in life is excepted and acceptable, but in some cases (like commercial airlines) failour is totally unacceptable because of the catastrophic consequences. That one passagers incoming phone call cost a lot of people their lives. I'm not willing to allow anyone else to play roulet with my life.

I do fully understand and appriciate what you're saying, most of the time cellphones on an airplane are indeed perfectly safe. But at least from my perspective, all it takes is one failour and nearly 100 people dead to put an end to it.

RE: Public outcry
By TomZ on 10/9/2007 9:06:10 PM , Rating: 2
How does shielding wear down over time? I don't think it works that way.

RE: Public outcry
By Locutus465 on 10/9/2007 11:34:58 PM , Rating: 2
The skin of the airplane will flex, rubber coating gets rubbed, whatever... It's already happend, people have already died because someone left their cell phone turned on and recived a call. This was the actual conclusion of the commission investigating the crash. And we're not talking some small single engine airplane, we're talking major commercial jet. If something can fail, it will. Sheilding on wires can fail, believe me I've been shocked enough times (touching UNEXPOSED wires) to know this.

RE: Public outcry
By elgoliath on 10/10/2007 1:29:06 PM , Rating: 2
Would you disagree that yearly testing of it would help alleviate concerns to a workable degree? I understand where you are coming from, but in my opinion, flying is inherently risky to begin with, and we take calculated risks every time be board a plane. I personally believe that we are able to, with proper testing at what ever interval is deemed appropriate, make the risk of cell phone use acceptable in relation to the other inherent risks.

I'm not saying I don't believe you, but what evidence did the investigating commission come up with that pointed to the cell phone or did they just think it was the most likely culprit after eliminating other possibilities?

RE: Public outcry
By twajetmech on 10/9/2007 5:02:32 PM , Rating: 2
The mythbusters did not do proper tests, nor did they use a fully functioning A/C in flight (as the FAA requires for all electronic components certified for use onboard any A/C)It may have looked good to the avg joe, but that episode was so far off as to be laughable to anyone in the industry. It costs more than 10mil usd just to certify a small gen aviation 4 seat A/C and many months of hard work, not a subject the mythbusters can prove/disprove in an hour or day

RE: Public outcry
By elgoliath on 10/9/2007 6:19:14 PM , Rating: 2
And if you take what I said as meaning it's the end-all be-all of proof that there is no issue, then I'm not sure what to tell you. It was brought as evidence (more than you have cited) that the sky is not falling. They did not do an exhaustive test with hundreds of different platforms. Nor did they test in the air as they were not allowed (hmm, against the law, how convenient), but they did a very nice battery of tests on both a controlled setup and in a fully functional aircraft that did everything but leave the ground, and they were unable to, in their testing, create any type of disturbance that would conceivably bring the plane down even with a massive boost to power that is, imo, never to likely be reproduced aboard a commercial passenger aircraft. I would also like to note that the pilot on the production plane they were testing, seemed to laugh at them when they asked if it would interfere with his equipment. No offense to you, but he seems more credible than some random person on the interweb.

If you find it so laughable, I am open to learning so please tell me where they went wrong and why it would have substantially changed the outcome. I don't understand how it could be laughable when it sounds like the Mythbusters have done more to test this issue than the FAA which brings up another point- where exactly are these tests you speak of performed and by whom as it sounds like you have info that the FAA, FCC and NASA don't have as, if I understand correctly, this new report doesn't say anything for sure, only that the possibility for interference exists, but I may have read it wrong.

RE: Public outcry
By DFranch on 10/9/2007 11:20:57 AM , Rating: 2
Because it does not bother people as much when they can hear both sides of a conversation. Only being able to hear one side bothers people more.

RE: Public outcry
By Polynikes on 10/9/2007 12:06:43 PM , Rating: 2
Don't get me wrong, I hate people who yap incessantly on their cell phones in public, especially when it's not for any reason other than something to do. Especially since most people feel the need to do it quite loudly. Some people practically yell.

I hate it.

But I live in a free country, and although they're annoying, they have every right to use their cell phone wherever it's allowed. It would be especially annoying on a plane, but that's why they make noise-canceling headphones.

One person's annoyance is another's bliss; it's not right to outlaw something merely because some people don't like it.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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