04th Oct 2012
Boeing announced last week that it plans to upgrade connectivity on several of its jets. The systems to be installed will enable in-flight cellphone use, apart from Internet access, live TV, etc. Boeing expects all 747 and 777 craft to be phone-ready by next year. The US FAA is yet to approve the new equipment, though. That opens up a large can of worms: Does the public want cellphones to be allowed on flights? Can cell (and other personal electronics) signals really interfere with airline communications equipment? How come some countries permit the use of phones on flights?
The general reason issued to the public about not allowing phones on flights is that personal radio equipment can interfere with flight-controlling radio equipment. This article in IEEE Spectrum, generally a respected publication, hints that all electronic equipment should be banned on flights — which makes you wonder why most Emirates flights since 2008 haven't crashed. Emirates' AeroMobile system allows you to use your own phone on (some) flights.
For the IEEE Spectrum article, the authors did a large amount of real-world research, only to come up with conclusions like: (1) Cell signals might interfere with aircraft signals (something flight attendants can tell you); and (2) "If airlines allow cellphone use, the (use of cellphones) could rise dramatically".
That was daft enough to make me look for the real story. Mike Elgan of Co mputerworld.com argues that in many different ways, it's easier and cheaper for governments and airlines to not allow in-flight phone use. Elgan reminds us that either there is a significant interference between personal electronics and airline radio, or there isn't. In the former case, all in-flight electronics should be banned, and so should Emirates (plus a few other airlines). In the latter case, phones should be allowed. It's up to the US FAA and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in India.
The bigger issue is probably that in-flight phone use could make flights unbearably noisy. Still, that isn't reason enough to ban them outright — maybe airlines could allow phones to be used, but not for voice calls? Do you believe that cell phones interfere with aircraft radio signals? Should airlines allow in-flight cell use? Please comment below.
TechTree Blog: In-Flight Phone Calls Coming Soon?
Boeing to upgrade equipment on 747s and 777s, but the debate hasn't even begun.
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