Cellphone use on airplanes may start soon

Only "some" avionics may be disabled


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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Prohibited from using cellular telephones in many private and public buildings, cell phone manufactures and service providers are seeking out facilities where their customers can talk with no restrictions on the length or volume of their conversations. Toward that end, the World Association for Cellular Telephony (WACT) is petitioning the Air Transport Association (ATA) to allow—in fact to encourage—cell phone use on both domestic and international, commercial airline flights.

Russell Portnell, communications director for WACT, said in a press conference here today, "The cabin compartment of commercial airliners may be the last bastion of enclosed spaces where our customers will be allowed free access to receive incoming and initiate outgoing calls. We are fighting for our customers' rights here. We view the unrestricted use of a cell phone on an airplane as no less of a personal right than that of the right to petition the government, the right to possess firearms or the right to vote."

Asked by a reporter about the potential problem of interference between cell phone transmissions and electrical navigation equipment aboard commercial airliners, Portnell responded, "We see no problem whatsoever. Our organization has sponsored several university studies that have shown conclusively that an airplane's essential avionics have little or no effect on cell phone reception and transmission."

Every critical system on today's aircraft has a backup, redundant system," said Portnell. "Some even have triple backup capabilities. Keeping all of those safeguards functioning during most phases of a flight does, however, generate a lot of interference with the frequencies that cell phones use for their wireless communications. All we are proposing here is that flight crews disable only some of the avionics—just the backup systems—once their aircraft is aloft and fully operational."

Sources in ATA have reported that it is considering the proposal and has contacted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to get that agency's reading on the request. FAA insiders familiar with the matter have told Err Travel that very few impediments to the WACT proposal exist. If agreement is reached among the WACT, the ATA and the FAA, allowing full-time cell phone use on airplanes could begin as early as next month.

In related news, WACT is petitioning the legislatures of Pennsylvania and Wyoming to allow use of multiple cell phones and other electronic devices while driving. The organization cited the results of a recent Colorado University study showing that drivers fully engaged with personal electronic devices were much less likely to be involved in incidents of road rage.

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