Is your cell phone dangerous when flying? - Airline information

Is your cell phone dangerous when flying?

Aviation authorities worldwide uniformly ban the usage of personal electronic devices (PEDs), most notably cell phones, during critical stages of flight. This includes pagers, Palm Pilots/Blackberries, CD/MP3 players and laptops.

“The risk posed by these portable devices is higher than previously believed. Radio frequency emitted from these devices can disrupt normal operation of key cockpit instruments, especially Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, which are increasingly vital for safe landings”, says Bill Strauss, one of the researchers for the February 2006 Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) study.

Documentation which shows the distinct possibility that cell phone interference resulted in the death of 10 passenger/crew members onboard a Crossair flight near Zurich, Switzerland in January 2000. Investigators found false readings given by aircraft instrumentation were later traced to the exact time of a text message received by a passenger.

The Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA)conducting PED studies since 1963, states cell phones “should be viewed as potentially hazardous and an unacceptable risk.” As of June 2005, “the FAA remains unconvinced that aircraft communication and navigation equipment can be adequately protected from onboard interference,” stated Nicholas Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety.

Airline pilots continue to file incident reports documenting experiences with in-flight cell phone usage and wonder what impact they may be having with the pre-flight checklist. Noise/disruption is a major concern for flight attendants as PED usage is already the second most likely cause of air rage next to alcohol.

A cell phone signal from an aircraft can wreak havoc for cellular networks as the transmission is moving from tower to tower at very quick speed. The latest mobile technology has reduced the risk of interference by developing an onboard base station, as opposed to traditional land based, which transmits to the cell phone via satellite network instead of ground towers.

But with current technology in the skies, the CMU study found an average of 1-4 cell phone calls are made on every commercial flight in the Northeast United States, some during prohibited times of landings/take offs.

According to a National Consumer League survey in April 2005, 63% want the current restrictions kept in place. This jumps to 80% when prompted with possible air rage incidents, terrorist threats and potential navigational problems.

Critics of the ban imply airlines don’t want to lose their revenue generated by their certified-safe air phones already onboard most commercial aircraft in the U.S. They reportedly receive a 15% cut which is especially important to the vital ARPU (Average Revenue per User).

Airlines.Ws has found that some airlines are supporting a “tap not talk” policy, thereby avoiding disruption to other passengers, which would allow email/text messaging via wireless networks. Several authorities have recently expressed interest in lifting the overall ban to the delight of numerous air travelers.

However, CMU researchers say while “there is no smoking gun to this story: there is no definitive instance of an air accident known to have been caused by a passenger’s use of an electronic device. Nonetheless, although it is impossible to say that such use has contributed to air accidents in the past, the data also make it impossible to rule it out completely. More important, the data support a conclusion that continued use of portable RF-emitting devices such as cellphones will, in all likelihood, someday cause an accident by interfering with critical cockpit instruments such as GPS receivers. This much is certain: there exists a greater potential for problems than was previously believed.”


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