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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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?

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
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