Over the years, people have gotten used to the fact that phones and electronic devices must be turned off while in the aircraft. There may be several sides to this. Some believe that it is better to err on the side of caution and be safe during travels while some, like my humble self, care less about it and would want to have my device on during the entire flight experience. Many travelers and people on board would generally want a yes or no answer as to if this is ok or not to fly with phones turned on but according to Patrick Smith of AskthePilot.com, he notes that a few rules are more confounding than those regarding the use of cell phones and portable electronic devices (PEDs). He notes that people want a simple, fits-all answer if this is cool or not. Unfortunately, there isn’t one. He notes that It depends on the gadget and how and when that gadget is used.
First of all, I will go with the general belief that phones and electronic devices should be switched off during flights and then afterwards, I would discuss the reasons why it does not matter if the phone is on or off.
In most countries of the world, the aviation authorities and authorities have standing rules and regulations that mandate all passengers on board to switch off their electronic devices which includes phones and electromagnetic devices during the duration of the flight. In Nigeria for instance, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has for the past 36 years, requested that all electronic devices and gadgets should be turned off during flights. I am not sure there were mobile phones in Nigeria when this laws were made but I would advise them to revisit these laws. Elsewhere, for instance, in The United States and Great Britain have relaxed some of these laws to accommodate the use of electronic devices but they still have a little reservation as to allowing inflight calls. Some airlines too make provisions for picocell which is a small mobile phone base station connected to the phone network via the Internet, typically used to improve mobile phone reception to allow their passengers to make calls during flight. Let us consider some of the reasons why most operators still consider making inflight calls generally as unsafe.
According to Wikipedia, electromagnetic interference to aircraft systems is a common argument offered for banning mobile phones PEDs on planes. Theoretically, active radio transmitters such as mobile phones, walkie–talkies, portable computers or gaming devices may interfere with the aircraft. Non-transmitting electronic devices also emit electromagnetic radiation, although typically at a lower power level, and could also theoretically affect the aircraft electronics. Collectively, any of these may be referred to as portable electronic devices (PEDs). A school of thought has it that if an electronic device gives off a strong enough signal, it could have negative impact on the aircraft navigational equipment, garbled radio transmissions, or otherwise interfere with the plane’s instruments.
One of such interference is aptly captured in a blog post on AirlineUpdates.com, a pilot wrote that transmitting mobiles can and do cause audible interference on an aircraft’s radios, but it’s fairly rare. The pilot added: ‘You’ve probably heard this interference yourself when a phone is set near a speaker. ‘It sounds like a “dit-dit-dit-dit” tone and it’s pretty annoying.’
The pilot wrote that it doesn’t happen every time a phone is on inside a plane and they fly 50 times a month and only hear it through their headphones once or twice over that period. The risk of interference has been drastically reduced by modern technology, he admitted interference is usually from a phone belonging to a crew member who forgot to switch it to flight mode, given that the pilots and forward flight attendants are seated closest to the radios. If there is repeated interference from mobiles it could cause the flight crew to miss a critical radio call from air traffic control, the pilot wrote, adding that it happened on a recent flight as a passenger surreptitiously texted on his phone. The interference stopped once the passenger was told to turn on flight mode.
Another reason why it may not be too cool to allow passengers to use their phones may be also to ensure sanity and a conducive environment for all other passengers. Imagine a situation in large aircraft having about 250 passengers on board and each one of them is actively involved in a telephone conversation. That will result in a very noisy environment which may not be very conducive for other passengers who may want to sleep or relax as the case may be.
Some other issues that deals with the regulations of the local authority of the country where the aircraft is operated may be applicable. Let’s take for instance if the local law in Nigeria forbids someone to have their phones switched on and a passenger insists on having it on because he feels that he there is no issues with that, the airline, depending on what laws is applicable can eject the passenger before proceeding with the journey hence, you risk missing your flight or a penalty depending on which laws is applicable.
Let me now spend some time to discuss the other group which would want this ban on use of mobile devices lifted. First of all, technological advancements over the years had made a lot of achievements in radio communication and avionics. More modern cellphones operate at frequencies which does not affect the electromagnetic communications on the airplane. Technology exists, and is in limited use, for passengers to use wi-fi internet and to make calls at high altitude, usually at premium rates. Even though the airport/aviation authorities believe that this electromagnetic effects of PED’s are most when on ground, a school of thought would question why then does the phone of passengers and other people in the airport terminal building not affect the aircraft. Patrick Smith of the Askthepilot.com graciously summaries it like this: ‘Can cellular communications really disrupt cockpit equipment? The answer is potentially yes, but in all likelihood no. Even if it is not actively engaged with a call, a powered phone dispatches bursts of energy that can, in theory, interfere with a plane’s electronics. Aircraft are designed and shielded with this interference in mind, however, and this should mitigate any ill effects. For years, airlines and regulators had been erring on the zero-tolerance, better-safe-than-sorry side. Each time we flew, the never-tedious safety briefing would frighten us into making sure our phones were in the proverbial off position prior to taxiing. Things have changed. In the United States, the FAA still restricts phones to airplane mode, but inflight texting and browsing, via Wi-Fi, are freely permitted. Elsewhere, there’s confidence enough that more than thirty airlines, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, Aeroflot, and Alitalia, now allow inflight calling.’
In summary, the essence of this post is to point out that even though it is very important for every flier and traveler to be law abiding and safety conscious, it is also important we understand that some of these practices are just to ensure our safety as travelers. And also for the very law abiding travelers, do not freak out or feel very unsafe if someone close to you violates any of these. Technology has come a long way and most of these are well taken care of already.
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