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
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