Federal officials said last week they are considering lifting the ban prohibiting in-flight cell phone use in a controversial move that has drawn protest from both industry groups and the public.
While cell phone use would still be restricted during takeoff and landing, the proposal would lift a longstanding Federal Communications Commission ban on phone calls and cellular data use above 10,000 feet. The FCC first implemented the ban in 1991, citing concerns regarding potential interference with cell phone networks on the ground. However, technology capable of preventing such interference is now available and, according the agency, is already in use by other countries without issue.
“Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” Tom Wheeler, who became FCC Chairman earlier this month, said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”
The latest proposal is the agency’s second attempt to remove the ban on in-flight cell phone use. The FCC considered relaxing its ban earlier in 2004 but ultimately withdrew the proposal in response to opposition and some remaining technical concerns.
Following the FCC’s announcement, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA immediately released a statement denouncing the proposal.
“AFA opposes any changes that would allow in-flight voice calls,” The association said. “Flight Attendants, as first responders and the last line of defense in our nation’s aviation system, understand the importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment. Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe.”
AFA added that passengers “overwhelmingly reject cell phone use” in aircraft cabins, citing results from polls and surveys conducted in previous years.
“Just imagine 250 passengers all making calls at once,” Capt. Patrick Smith, a 20-year pilot who writes the blog askthepilot.com, told USA Today. “I shudder to imagine how awful that would be.”
Others believe opponents to removing the ban may be overreacting because airlines will likely charge high prices for the ability to make calls and send text messages or emails.
“While it might be annoying to be sitting next to someone who is on the phone, I think people are overestimating how frequently this will actually be used,” James Morrow, an information technology consultant from Overland Park, Kan., told USA Today. “The airlines will charge dearly for the privilege, and sound quality of the call will almost certainly suffer if only due to the background noise of an airplane.”
Ultimately, it will be up to the Federal Aviation Administration and airlines to decide whether they want to install the necessary equipment to enable in-flight cell phone service, the FCC said, adding that it is the agency’s role simply to address and update unnecessary regulations when possible.
The FCC is expected to discuss the change at its Dec. 12 meeting, after which a public comment period may be instituted.