FCC to Consider Allowing Cell Phones on Flights

FCC to consider in-flight use of cell phones (CNN/Money)

Federal regulators are set to begin discussions later this month on allowing the use of cell phones on commercial airline flights. The Federal Communications Commission said that at its Dec. 15 meeting it will discuss possible revisions to rules prohibiting cell phone use on commercial flights. That’s the first step of the process needed to lift the ban.

Cell phone use has been banned due to concerns about how it could affect an aircraft’s navigation. And cell phones sometimes have trouble working when the plane is at cruising altitude because phone towers aren’t built to project their signals that high. The FCC rules have less to do with the effects on a plane’s navigation than concerns that cell phones on planes could wreak havoc with cell phone systems on the ground. While the FCC will start considering the issue next week, don’t expect a decision anytime soon. The agency will have a lengthy review period, and according to one FCC spokesperson, this review period will last well into next year. Ultimately however, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), will make its own decision.

The FAA says there’s no proof that cell phone use on commercial flights is safe and is currently conducting its own studies. The issue is whether the signals from the phones will interfere with the pilot’s ability to navigate the plane. The RTCA, an organization that advises the FAA on technical matters, has been researching this issue. Their final report is scheduled for 2006. That report will then factor in the FAA decision, therefore a decision before 2006 would be unlikely.

One would think there would need to be some proof that cell use on planes is dangerous–not proof of the negative, that they’re safe–for a ban to be enacted in the first place. That it’s been banned as long as it has and they haven’t even finished their study is rather damning.

Of course, there’s this to consider:

But the idea of having cell phones allowed on flights worried some flyers, who said they dreaded being next to someone having a loud and prolonged conversation. “Can you imagine being in the middle seat between two business people making phone calls for 3 hours?” said Les Glass in an e-mail to CNN/Money. “What are the airlines and the FCC thinking?”

Good point. Hell, it’s aggravating enough at the airport, with people giving minute-by-minute accounts of their progress in boarding the plane.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. This would be AWFUL. I must admit, I have been known to yap on my phone in Starbucks, in the grocery store but I am always conscientous enough to keep my tone just above a whisper and not discuss personal details. But others lack this consideration. The following are conversations I have actually overhead from someone on their cell phone:

    – A woman’s persistent reoccurence of diarrhea (including recent attacks and doctor’s advice)

    – How he “could not keep it hard” last night

    – How one woman stole her neighbor’s social security checks (tempted to call the police on this one).

    I mean it’s ridiculous the things people will say when others are in ear shot (although it’s also ridiculous the personal things myself or others will write in a blog but no one is forced to read that crap without their consent). If cell phones were allowed in airplanes I would either have to slit my wrists or purchase a very expensive set of headphones.

  2. I don’t even have a cell phone. Although there are moments where it would be really handy, most of the time its cool to just talk to the people I am with. Plus the ettiquette I see from current users makes me think the radiowaves have nuked the ‘politeness’ sector of their brains.

  3. kappiy says:

    Boeing, for one, is against lifting the ban.

    Although, I think that the issue of annoyance is legitimate enough for sustaining the ban.

    To contribute to these aecdotes: I was on a bus a few months ago where a person was on her cell phone booking a flight and she actually gave out her credit card number, name, address, etc… in the typical loud cell phone voice! She was making no attempt at being quiet.

    I was pondering the legality of copying down everything she said and posting it somewhere on the internet!

  4. McGehee says:

    This would elevate the overall annoyance factor of airline travel by about 0.0000001%, as far as I’m concerned.

    Just don’t let the pilots yak on cellphones when they’re supposed to be flying, though. That might cause an accident.

  5. Davod says:

    What a silly idea. I have read that some explosives are triggered by cell phones.

  6. triticale says:

    No, David, what it is is that some explosive devices are constructed with a cell phone wired to the detonator. When that phone receives a call, everyone hears the new ringtone. The old warning to turn off radios in blasting zones referenced CBs and business mobile devices, all of which transmit far more energy than a mobile handset.