back to article Airline pilots told to switch off mobile phones

The US Federal Aviation Authority has issued an alert to airlines reminding them that its not just passengers who should keep their phones switched off, but pilots too. The alert follows an incident where an air-safety inspector was observing take-off, moments prior to which the crew heard a "warbling sound" which turned out …


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  1. Richard
    Paris Hilton

    Safty lies

    As this seems to have been going on for some time, could this not be proof that mobiles don't actually affect the planes equipment?

    The inverse square law would dictate that a mobile in the cockpit would have a far greater effect on the equipment. It wouldn't even matter if they didn't receive a call as mobiles reregister themselves with the network all the time.

    Paris as we would like to inverse her square.

  2. Travis

    Why do they announce this now?

    IS it only a coincidence they announce this just a few days after an unexplained crash in Buffalo, NY during landing?

  3. Jimmy Floyd

    Just to be clear

    Pre-empting the comments about "safety of the aircraft with a live 'phone," may I remind people that the reason mobiles are supposed to be switched off has little or nothing to do with the plane, it's guidance systems, fly-by-wire or anything else like that. It is simply that mobile phones are assumed to be at more-or-less ground level and anything else tends to confuse the mobile operators and their base-stations like hell.

    Even when I was flying gliders at between 1-5,000ft we were told to keep our mobiles off for that very reason.

  4. Dazed and Confused

    No Mandy, I can't talk right now

    There is no chance of getting Mandy turn anything off on a plane. I had the misfortune to sit next to him on a flight out to Geneva a couple of years ago. When the studardess came around to ask everyone to switch their MP3 players off he just waited for her to go and put it back on... 3 times!

  5. J-Wick

    Real threat, or just distraction avoidance?

    So, cany anyone tell me - do phones actually interfere with aircraft systems, or do the cabin crew just want passengers not to be distracted, and to remain aware of their surroundings during take-off & landing?

  6. Robin

    More evidence cellphones don't cause problems

    If pilots have had cellphones on in the cockpit all this time with no reported problems, perhaps the FAA etc. should just drop the ban.

    Also, why can I not have my non-wireless PDA on, but my digital watch is fine and 400 seat back LCD panels? Seriously, the plane is designed to survive multiple lightning strikes with associated RF interference, but can't handle in incoming call from a cell tower or the RF signal of a Kindle I hold 2 feet from my head for hours on end?

  7. Simon
    Thumb Down

    Utter nonsense

    As was pointed out on a recent radio 4 comedy, if phones and gameboys posed any danger whatsoever they wouldn't let you have them.

  8. Daniel B.

    Flying while talking

    If using your mobile phone while driving causes an accident, I wonder how dangerous it might be for the pilot to answer his phone:

    - "Hello? Oh yes, I'm about to land this .... OH SHIT! >CRASH<"

    Also, while inflight mobiles are supposed to be too weak to interfere with the airplane instruments, a phone right inside the cockpit *can* interfere with them!

    Flames because the pilot was talking on his mobile while flying...

  9. RichyS
    Paris Hilton

    Nothing to do with planes dropping out of the sky

    The reason for switching your phone off in a plane is that moving at the sort of speed planes do seriously foxes the network gear. Although the antenna are very directional on the horizontal plane (as in axis, not the one with wings), there's a fair amount of leakage on the vertical plane.

    GSM is only rated up to a certain velocity (about 250km/h, I think). Go any faster, and the cells cannot hand off to one another fast enough. Result: confused network.

    Paris, 'cos she's easily confused.

  10. Dale Harrison

    Turn off your mobile while you read this... it maaay get gistorted.

    But yeah, I can see that the close proximity of a phone to electrical kit could potentially have an effect - e.g. holding your phone near audio eqpt. produces that noise: "gat der gat der gat der gat der gat" which is disconcerting. (Mind you I'm no RF expert)

    So I can see some of it but come on! Why turn off your phone while in a doctors waiting room. The situations I would avoid having my phone on are things like Intensive Care Units and erm Plane cockpits.

    Just my two cents / penneth (depending from where you are)

  11. Greg Moseley

    Not a problem for cabin crew

    I used to fly from England to Scotland on a weekly basis, the cabin crew could often be seen texting from the galley.

    This is an age old concern, like the early days of no mobile phones in datacenters. I thought I read some time ago that an airline was trialling mobile phones on flights?

  12. Scott Herter

    The real reason...

    Mythbusters did an episode on mobile phones and airplanes. They found that some old phones did interfere with some old equipment. This resulted in the FAA ban. Theoretically, the newer phones and newer flight systems should not be a problem. The FAA's position is "prove it". They will be more then happy to allow cell phones on planes when someone proves to them that it will be OK by testing their equipment with all currently active filght systems in use and showing there is no problem. Quite simply, that is too expensive for the handset manufacturers to do. Handsets come and go so quickly that it simply isn't worth it to them. The FAA won't relent because at one time some cell phones did interfere with some equipment and no one wants to take a chance that dropping the ban will have some airplanes fall out of the sky.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Plainly fatuous

    If I thought that my safety depended on every one of the 500 people on the A380 both successfully having understood how to turn off their varied electronic appliances, <i>and</i> electing to comply when asked, I'd never ever fly.

  14. James O'Brien

    @Flying while talking

    Heh beat me to it but just want to add this:

    Female pilot talking on the cell while doing her nails during takeoff/landing.....I can just see that now :)

    /Yes yes ill take the coat and leave now

  15. Martin Silver badge

    @Real threat, or just distraction avoidance?

    Three possibilities.

    1, Mobile phones do affect planes, but nobody anywhere in the world in the last 10years has ever accidentally left a phone turned on during a flight.

    2, Mobile phopnes cause hundreds of crashes everyday but the government covers them up

    3, Mobile phones don't do anything. The ban is to persuade you to use the $5/min airphone and because the FCC is worried it will bugger up cell towers if you fly over them at 600mph 6miles up.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "unlike passengers who can't even use an MP3 player during take off and landing..."

    I've wondered about this for some time - when you land, you can fire up your phone the instant the smoke wafts away from the landing gear. But you still can't use an mp3 player.

    So, basically, you can use an iPhone, but not an iPod touch. Somehow, when you've landed, the phone bit makes it OK to use that electronics, but something without the phone bit is unsafe.

    Uh huh. Methinks someone's a bit behind the curve on device classification...

  17. Charles Silver badge

    Re: More evidence cellphones don't cause problems

    One word: certification.

    The Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Communication Commission have to cooperate when it comes to airborne electronics. Since the FAA is under directive to keep safety at top priority, anything that could even *potentially* interfere (and FTR, *anything* electrical emits electromagnetic radiation--inevitable consequence of the use of electricity) has to be stopped since they can't afford to be unlucky *even once*. In legal terms, planes can't comply with Part 15 of the FCC rules (which govern radiation and interference due to such) because there's no guarantee it won't react adversely to unwanted emissions.

    Why are the seat LCD's OK? They've been *tested and certified* by the FAA to be safe. And these certs are *specific* to a configuration of device and plane. Start counting all the potential emitters (both in the plane and on passengers--all those models of cell phones) and the myriad planes and configurations of planes out there (since one plane may react differently from another). Now multiply by the costs to test and certify those parts for each and every configuration. Add in the fact that airlines are already on tight budgets, and you start grasping the scope of the problem. Since the FAA won't allow any transmitter to fly uncertified, and since airlines can't afford the test (and neither could us), most everything falls under the FAA's general prerogrative of "safety first"--or "better safe than sorry" or, to use computer security terminology "deny all untrusted sources".

  18. Nicholas Ettel

    @ Jimmy Floyd

    You're partially correct. Initially, mobile electronic devices WERE banned because, apparently, the FAA couldn't hire enough competent electrical/electronic engineers to determine the true threat of any cross-talk interference with in-flight systems -- there WAS a percieved threat of airplane systems interference. If there weren't a percieved threat to airplane systems, why would it be a FAA regulation as opposed to a FCC regulation, which would make more sense if the regulation were looking out purely for base-station confusion -- the FAA cares about their planes and the safety involved in operating those planes; they couldn't give two shits about a mobile operator's safety and operation, nor is it in their purview to impose restrictions thereupon.

    Now, it's an almost draconic regulation that they refuse to update -- except that there ARE legitimate reasons to keep it: 1) They need the passengers to pay attention, especially during taxi and take-off, for in-flight safety messages and in case of emergencies; 2) using a cell phone in cramped, closed quarters such as a plane is rude and discourteous to the other passengers (you're almost certainly going to be talking louder than normal due to in-flight noise).

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Reminds me of a flight to DC last year with my boss... He was sending/receiving emails on his phone (2 way conversation.) I mentioned to him that we were supposed to have those off. The response I got was "I'm not using the phone, I'm only emailing" We made it there safely. I think there is a partial disconnect for the public in regards to what does it mean to turn off the phone.. Means NO text, NO email and that the battery be surrendered at the gate.

  20. Rich

    I think they modified GSM

    I believe the GSM system was modified many years ago to deal with high-altitude/high-speed devices attempting to connect.

    Apparently (GA) pilots here in NZ use phones quite a lot, sometimes with unfortunate consequences:

  21. Herby

    They actually have some use.

    I have a nephew that flies as first officer (right seat) for a major AAmerican AAirline. He has a nice iPhone. On at least ONE occasion he has used it to get weather information to allow his plane to depart. One of these days someone will get some common sense about cell phones. The problem (as stated above) is NOT the airplane, but the cell sites. They don't like being "lit up" in vast multiples from cell phones in the sky..

    Oh, the (jesus) iPhone does have an "Airplane" mode for those concerned.

  22. ratfox


    You're not allowed to turn on your cell phone until the engine stop. Until the moment all the people stand up, grab their bag, and rush for the door which is still closed. Whoever told you you could turn on your cell phone as soon as you landed?!

  23. Magani

    @ Travis

    " IS it only a coincidence they announce this just a few days after an unexplained crash in Buffalo, NY during landing?"

    Yes, Travis, it IS a coincidence. You need to keep up. The cause is currently thought to be ice [*] build-up on the wings associated with keeping the aircraft on autopilot in heavy icing conditions (not an approved procedure for the aircraft type)

    [*] ICE in this context does not refer to 'In Cockpit Entertainment'

    The real reason that cell / mobile phones are banned in flight is to stop the huge increase in air rage if they were allowed. I would ram airline food down the throat of the first person I find saying "Hi Honey, I'm in the plane now...", especially on a long haul flight.

  24. kain preacher

    @ ratfox

    . Whoever told you you could turn on your cell phone as soon as you landed?!

    I've been told that by flight attendants .

  25. James Foreman


    You can on Cathay - as soon as the wheels are on the ground here in Hong Kong, the announcement goes up that you can use your phone - you just can't get up and stampede the aisles in a bid to beat the queue for the exit. And as far as I remember, that's true in at least some parts of the US (people were happily using their phones as we taxied toward the terminal at Seattle last month).

  26. David Barr

    Load of shite

    And as per usual we'll be forced to keep our deviced turned off because it might be safer. Bollocks. I'm pretty sure many people just stick the phone on silent.

  27. Paul

    power ups??

    The GSMy type blokes who I speak with say that one or two phones aren't a problem. But as you get further and further away from a base station, like you would when you are taking off, the handsets crank up their signal strength to try to stay connected. (Which is why your battery goes flat quicker in poor signal areas)

    So if on a flight full of business people, each with a phone and a crackberry, you could have up to 1500 devices attempting to get signal, all ramping up to nearly a watt of power, doesn't sound much, but my microwave is only 800 watts and it nuked the crap out of my curry last night!

  28. Allan Dyer Silver badge

    @James Foreman

    That's because the right to free speech is enshrined in HK law. In fact, in many circumstances, phone use is mandatory, e.g. when a photo is taken of a group of 5 or more people, and during quiet scenes in the cinema etc.

    However, it's not compulsory to use a phone while driving, unless you are having an accident.

  29. Mark Aggleton
    Thumb Down

    Is it just coincidence

    that this story appearded on El Reg the day Ryanair allowed use?

  30. George Forth
    Thumb Up

    Don't tell Ryanair!

    Because Ryanair has just made it possible for all passengers to use mobile phones above 10,000 feet.

  31. Adam Silver badge

    Phones affect black boxes

    The is at least one documented instance in the AAIB reports of a pilot's mobile phone garbling the data on the flight data recorder.

    So mobiles do interfere with in-flight systems. That doesn't necessarily equate to causing a crash, but it may mean that the cause of a particular crash can't be discovered until it causes another one.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    airline safety

    A lifetime ago, I was a National Service typist in the RAF's nuclear bomber force. I once had to type a memo to all operational stations which said that "following certain recent incidents" it had been decided to amend the instructions to pilots in the MBF on handing over control of an aircraft. In future, it had to go:

    A: I am giving you control

    B: I am taking control

    A: You have control

    B: I have control.

    I have always wondered about those "recent incidents".

  33. Mayhem


    Ryanair is allowing people to use their phones because they have essentially turned the passenger cabin into a cell site, which then redirects all communications skywards to a satellite which relays it back to the ground. This neatly gets around all the issues with terrestrial cell stations not handling vertical signals well. I suspect the modern planes involved also have some extra passive means of impeding signals installed around the passenger areas.

    I learned from several senior people a few years back that along with FAA certification, the other major hindrance to using electronic devices is because the insurance companies will use anything as an excuse to void policies. Its the same reason security measures are tending to the absurd and we can't take cans of coke and what have you on board - because once the restriction is in place, it gets added to the policy, and the airline cannot jeopardise its insurance by relaxing their requirements even though the risks associated are next to nothing.

  34. Magani

    @George Forth

    Yet another reason not to fly Ryanair.

    Penguins don't fly Ryanair either

  35. Alistair

    Oh FFS

    Mobiles are not a danger to the planes electronics and certainly not to the black box flight recorders - which are design to withstand a crash, BTW.

    Its because once in the air they cause havoc with the ground network.

    Jeez when will this get through to you lot?!

  36. Ari

    yes and no

    Cellphones cause interference on aircraft equipment.

    Usually just not very much.

    On landing I personally (as a pilot) prefer to have them off, and making the rule just go apply to everyone is the simplest way to do that.

    Especially during an ILS approach (not to mention CAT3 or something like that) when you need 100% accuracy then you want to avoid having transceivers in the cabin next to the antennas. It's really worse if the cellphone is close to antennas, which are positioned on the aircraft fuselage. The cockpit isn't that sensitive, mostly the intercom system that gets affected.

  37. Adam Silver badge


    Ok, you've made me find the AAIB bulletin:

    "the source of the interference was subsequently confirmed to be from the commander's own personal mobile telephone which was active and located on the flight deck."

  38. elderlybloke

    Cell Phones

    People who use cell phones in a public place ,like a Bus , Aircraft or Train are ignorant , selfish , dim brained imbeciles .

    Does that make my opinion clear.

  39. Darkside

    Female pilot

    "Female pilot talking on the cell while doing her nails during takeoff/landing..."

    ...notices the aircraft is about to do something antisocial. Says "Fifi, NO!" in that clear, firm, talking-to-toddlers voice. The aircraft decides to stick to the plan. Nail filing continues.

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