New study on in-flight mobile phone use

Chris Ashton

New study on in-flight mobile phone use - Flickr: Kai Hendry

Is switching off your phone during flight really necessary? That's the question the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is trying to answer.

The North American organisation will set up an industry group to study whether to allow more widespread use of smartphones and other portable electronic devices during flights, yet is still ruling out the possibility of voice calls.

Smartphones and tablet computers are common on planes, with pilots even using iPads in the cockpit. But passengers have to shut off electronic devices when the plane is below 10,000 feet because of worries that signals emitted by the devices might interfere with cockpit electronics.

The FAA doesn't actually ban the devices. But it says airlines can only allow devices that have been tested and proven not to interfere with the plane's electronics. With thousands of devices on the market and new ones coming out each day, airlines simply ban them all during takeoff and landing.

"We're looking for information to help air carriers and operators decide if they can allow more widespread use of electronic devices in today's aircraft," Michael Huerta, acting FAA administrator, said in a news release.

Many airlines around the world offer the ability to make calls from fixed phones on board the aircraft, however there are only a handful that allow calls to be made from mobile phones.

On 20 March 2008, Emirates Airline flights began allowing in-flight voice calls on some commercial airline flights. The approval by the European Aviation Safety Authority established that GSM phones on certified aircraft types are considered safe to use when installed with an on-board cellular picocell.

Considering how long it's taken for Australian airlines to implement Wi-Fi access though, it seems unlikely that any of our domestic carriers will be bringing in a similar option any time soon.