In-Flight Cell Phone Use Gets a Hearing

The Federal Aviation Administration said at a hearing of a House aviation subcommittee on Thursday that it was up to the carriers and phone manufacturers to get the ban on cell phone use in planes lifted. "The FAA is not changing its rules," the group's administrator for Aviation Safety Nicholas Sabatini bluntly told attendees.

The move to lift the ban started back in December after several European countries began to relax their rules on in-flight cell phone use. Numerous independent studies have shown that cell phones do not interfere with plane operations; however, government agencies and some airline passenger interest groups continue to resist any move to change the rules.

"If an air carrier is willing to take the time and incur the expense of testing and verifying that the cell phone usage presents no in-flight interference problems, our rules allow an air carrier to permit such devices," Sabatini told the subcommittee.


The FAA has already allowed one airline, American, to test something called a "pico cell" which would keep phones operating at a low level of power. United was also given permission to install wireless Internet on some of its planes.

At least one company in Europe plans to bring mobile phone access to its planes. Siemens and Airbus are working together to provide GSM connectivity on some Airbus planes through a service called On-Air by the end of 2006.

The on-board cell phone service would be controllable by the flight crew, meaning that an airline would be able to enforce "quiet times" by switching features on and off.

In any case, Sabatini said that the group would continue to revaluate its position. "This will be one of the issues that we will continue to assess and monitor if cell phone technology proliferates onboard aircraft."

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