- Dec 28, 2005
- Total Time
It looks like cell phone usage on board won't be allowed - at least for now.
March 23, 2007
Chief Says F.C.C. Is Against Cellphone Use on Airliners
By MATTHEW L. WALD
WASHINGTON, March 22 — The Federal Communications Commission will give up on the idea of allowing cellphone use on airplanes, the chairman said on Thursday, because it is not clear whether the network on the ground can handle the calls.
While the chairman, Kevin J. Martin, cited a technical reason, thousands of air passengers have written to the F.C.C., urging rejection of the proposal because of the potential for irritating passengers in airline cabins. The Federal Aviation Administration had been laying the groundwork to allow in-flight cellphone use.
Both agencies would have had to approve before the phones could be legally used on board.
The problem cited by Mr. Martin did not have to do with flight safety or the mood in the cabin, but a problem raised by the cellphone industry. The system is designed for phones to communicate with a single cell tower at a time. But a cellphone that is several miles in the air can contact many towers at once, tying up circuits in all of them, the industry argued.
“The record was still unclear as to whether it would create interference, so at this time it doesn’t make as much sense to go forward,” Mr. Martin told reporters. A motion to drop the proceeding, which began in December 2004, is now circulating among the five commissioners.
At the cellular industry’s trade association, the CTIA, Joseph E. Farren, a spokesman, said, “When I’m walking down Pennsylvania Avenue and I make a call, it’s a lot different than placing a call 20,000 feet in the air going 500 miles an hour.” But he also alluded to the social problem. “From an in-flight perspective, there is some talk of, ‘O.K., maybe cellphone conversations would drive people crazy,’ ” he said.
The issue for aviation safety is that planes navigate by way of faint radio signals from the ground and from satellites. These are on frequencies different from the ones authorized for cellphone use, but safety experts worry that any electronic equipment might emit signals at a frequency that would drown out the navigation signals.
The airlines were ambivalent about the desirability of cellphone use on board. Tim Wagner, a spokesman for American, said his airline was concerned about the “social implications,” and would probably have considered setting aside certain times in the flight, or parts of the plane, for cellphone use.
The airlines are still interested in providing customers with e-mail access and the ability to browse the Web, however. “We believe our customers value that and would love to have that on the airplane,” Mr. Wagner said. American carries 250,000 to 275,000 people a day, he said, and “life doesn’t necessarily stop” when they are on board.
The step backward for wireless devices on planes probably comes to the relief of some passengers. Among the more than 8,100 comments received by the F.C.C., for example, was this message from Thomas F. Flournoy III, of Atlanta: “Please for the sanity of the majority of air passengers who do not want to hear cellphone conversations in the air, and to avoid confrontations between passengers, do not allow this practice to begin.”