Airliners To Remain Cellphone-Free Zones


Of all the things that are different aboard airliners these days, the FCC has decided one thing will remain the same. It will not allow passengers to use cellphones in flight. In a terse single-page ruling issued in late November and made public this week, the commission terminated a seven-year-old rulemaking process that would have allowed passengers to use their phones after the aircraft reached 10,000 feet. The decision to proceed to rulemaking was controversial when it was proposed in 2013 and that may be why it has been adrift in the bureaucratic backwaters ever since. 

According to the Verge, even the FCC wasn’t a fan of the idea but it wasn’t because of any safety concern. In fact the rulemaking process would have specifically allowed airlines to install equipment that would make it safe to use cellphones in flight, although there was some dispute as to whether it would work. Instead, the FCC cited “strong opposition to the Commission’s proposals from many commenters in this proceeding, including our nation’s airline pilots and flight attendants” and that “it would not serve the public interest or be a wise use of the agency’s limited resources to continue to pursue this rulemaking proceeding.”

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  1. This, like the EmoSupAn issue is one which has created lots of Sturm und Drang in airliner cabins for at least a couple of decades now. Even with the ban, some idiots felt entitled to flout the rules and blather away on their widgets. In fact, refusal to shut off cellfones is used as a scenario in crew training programs. You only have to listen to the mindless chatter before and after the sterile time to know what the whole flight would sound like absent the ban. Hooray FCC! Now, about that threat to the GPS system…

  2. As an Avionics Engineer, I’ve been telling people for years that solving the technical issues of having a cellular transmitter onboard is trivial. We can solve the problem easily. It’s the social issue of enduring the “private” conversation of the passenger next to you that I can’t solve. Or the need to get everybody to hang up their phone (terminate a conversation) long enough to listen to a passenger safety briefing, or even pause to buckle a seatbelt in turbulence.

    I’m an engineer. The technical problems I can solve. The social problems I can’t.

    • Yep. Having flown on The Screaming Baby Express a zillion times (I guess we can’t fix that), and back when smoking was allowed (I’m so happy we stopped that), I’d simply stop flying if people could get on their phones. I wasn’t even happy when someone got on the dollars-per-minute sat phones in business class, to talk to someone about nothing (but surely mentioning that they are seven miles above Cincinnati …)

  3. I am happy for the inflight cell phone ban. Likewise, the definition of the service pets brought up in other recent AvWeb articles.

    Modern day American’s seem to lack the discipline to make decisions regarding behavior that requires thinking about others while in close proximity. As a result, just about every mode of mass transportation has to define the behavior required and through rules and regulations, instruct people in expected etiquette to ensure overall safety forcing some minimum of passenger civility and co-existence.

    While there are all sorts of engineering arguments about cell phone transmission and its influence on airline avionics, with the rapidly evolving cell phone internal capabilities, there is no guarantee the next IOS upgrade will not affect the aircraft. In GA airplanes often flown with similar avionics, there is usually not 10-200 cell phones of various vintage and constantly evolving operating systems in simultaneous use. Considering the age of the average airliner and the age of the average avionics installed, what may have been safe yesterday may not be today with all of this connectivity and expanding hardware capabilities.

    Claiming rules in racing came from racers examining the race regulations and seeing how they might get around them and not get caught. Seat belt laws were required because the average American refused to put them on after they became standard equipment for over two decades. Banning cell phone use in work zones resulted from workers getting killed by distracted drivers. California had to go back to lockdowns with inevitable law enforcement by military or police because, the average citizen will not comply with the basic four steps in transmission mitigation using the similar arguments debated on safety, efficacy, and protocols as with cell phone use on airliners. Those arguments seem to center around “my rights”.

    At some point, when the society cannot agree on what is right and proper, there will be rules and regulations to prevent anarchy. Many Americans are deciding what is right for themselves with their definitions of service animals, cell phone use, seat belt conformity, racing competition, Covid-19 mitigation, business operations, etc…the list is rapidly growing…with little or no regard on how those decisions affect others. Major corporations, who are made up with people who seem to think likewise, do the same thing as demonstrated so well by Boeing in the case of MAX. They knew what the certification rules were, and made decisions that was the most cost effective for them and their shareholders, once again demonstrating their motivation was not for the greater good but for corporate profits. How far can we take_______________(fill in the blanks), and not get caught or contest things we don’t want to do this under a “civil rights” argument is now becoming a significant cultural problem.

    We complain about politicians doing likewise. But we seem unwilling to look at ourselves. Politicians rarely initiate laws entirely on their own whose sole basis is being a societal benefit. They react to us, our collective behavior, by enacting laws in response to it. Hence the promulgations of rules and regulations with very specific definitions to essentially protect us from ourselves and others.

    I am not advocating more government and the baggage/consequences that come from bureaucratic rulemaking. But if we don’t start taking the initiative in daily life we are opening the door wider and wider for government intervention.

    Its easy to sit back, armed with keyboard courage and criticize. Many of us have too much time on our hands in the middle of this pandemic. So, bitching about other’s behavior is relatively easy and becoming more popular to do. In fact, it is fast becoming a national past time. There are no easy, simple answers to cultural selfishness. I like personal sovereignty that comes with freedom. But that freedom to be sovereign requires responsibility to others when decisions are made.

    In my opinion, there has to be return to a personal, social minimums checklist of behavior that considers what my decisions might do to my neighbor. While sounding like Mr. Rogers, maybe very over-simplistic, America needs to consider thinking about volunteering to be nice, more considerate of others within our families as well as those within our sphere of influence. If we don’t, who will?