Should airline passengers be allowed to use cellphones during flights?

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by Jay Crandall

azfamily.com

Posted on November 2, 2012 at 3:50 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 2 at 4:28 PM

PHOENIX -- Take a look around any major airport and it seems like like everyone is on their cellphone -- talking, texting, e-mailing and more. But as soon as they get on the plane, the phones have to go off.

But in other parts of the world that doesn't happen, and that is leading some to wonder if U.S. rules are outdated.

All you have to do is ask passengers why they think the phone goes off and you get a pretty standard answer. One passenger told us, “Well, I really don't know what complications it would cause with flights, which I think is very important. “

And that is the reason most Americans assume they have to turn off their cellphones and other devices on a plane, according to Tim McCulloch, aviation expert and attorney at Gordon & Rees. He said there also are some concerns about electronic interference.

“There have been some reports about cellphones and other electronics interfering with the avionics,” he said.

McCulloch said Boeing has tried to duplicate problems, but even using the exact same devices, has never been able to do so. And he said there are strict guidelines for a plane's electronic equipment.

“The avionics that are in the front that the pilots pay attention to, in order for them to be certified, they have to be hardened against interference,” he said.

In fact, the equipment is designed to withstand even lightning strikes to the plane.

However, McCulloch said there is a more compelling safety issue.

“The flight attendants union also doesn't want cellphones to be used when they are giving their briefings because they really want the passengers to pay close attention to those briefings, and those briefings are important because if the airplane crashes, people have very little time to save themselves from any sort of airplane crash," McCulloch said.

And while some passengers we spoke to do seem to feel the model in Europe that allows virtually unlimited in-flight use is good, “I think most people want to communicate when they are in the air because they have so much time,” said one woman. “I think it is a good idea.”

Another adds, “I think it is rather important to have the communication that we are able to have.”

But not everyone agrees.

“I think it is distracting," one man told us. "It is really too close to be having a conversation, a private conversation."

Still another said, “I just don't care to hear myself or anyone else carry on a conversation on a four-hour flight.”

McCulloch said those passengers have a strong, if seemingly unlikely, ally -- cellphone companies themselves.

“But I think the carriers are going to resist that, fiercely,“ he said.

First, there would be costly changes to cell towers, McCulloch explained.

“They would have to put another receiving device so it was on top of the tower facing straight up,” he said.

And even more expensive, McCulloch said, would be loss of bandwidth.

“If somebody is using a cellphone in an airplane, it can set off a bunch of the cells and it costs the carriers a lot of extra money because a lot of channels get taken up,” he said.

McCulloch said he thinks safety questions and cost concerns will be more than enough to disconnect any efforts to allow cell use in flight.

“I just don't think cellphones are ever going to be allowed on aircraft," he said. "I just don't think that is going to happen. “

McCulloch believes if any electronic devices are allowed on during takeoff and landing, it will be e-readers.

The Federal Aviation Administration has commissioned a new study how devices might affect a plane's avionics.
 

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