Why do some airlines permit the use of mobile phones?

12 August 2012

Question

Dear Chris,
Fact of fiction: do cell phones affect the operations of aeroplanes and why is it that some airlines allow the use of cell phones while airborne?

Kind regards,
Rebone

Answer

Dominic - There are essentially three reasons which are cited for why people haven't been allowed to use phones on aircrafts up until now. The first one is that there have been suggestions that the radio waves from the mobile phones can interfere with the operation of the aircraft. Secondly, it actually causes problems for the cell phone networks because phones work by finding out which transmitter mast is closest to the phone and then linking to that mast. Now if you're up in the air, you can see an awful lot of masts and the network can't actually decide which mast to attach to. And the third problem is the social aspect of it being rather anti-social to be shouting into your phone when you're in the air, on an aeroplane.

Chris - People do that in my train all the time, It doesn't seem to bother them!

Dominic - Yes, but of course, with the noise of the engines, you going to have to shout quite loud to speak to somebody in an aeroplane. Now in fact, the evidence that phones interfere with aircrafts is very weak. There have been studies done, certainly by Boeing, to look at flying aircrafts with and without phones on-board and there was some very weak evidence that the planes with phones on-board may have had slightly more incidents, but it was so weak, it was probably just down to chance. So I think most airlines now don't believe that phones do interfere with aircrafts and you can get around the problem of having to decide which mast to attach to by having a transmitter on-board the aeroplane which uses the aeroplane's own communication systems to route your call to whatever network you're using.

Chris - Brilliant! Thank you, Dominic. I shall use my phone with impunity on the aeroplane and refer them to you if they tell me off.

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