One of my great frustrations when travelling
on commercial aircraft is the amount of drama that is seemingly created by the
mobile phones and electronic equipment on-board. The situation hit the
ridiculous level a couple of years ago when I was travelling home from the US.
Fog at Sydney airport meant that the plane couldn’t land at Kingsford Smith and
we were diverted to Brisbane. The plane landed and the captain announced that
we would sit on the tarmac for approximately an hour after which time we would
take off again and fly to Sydney. Rather than sit in my seat and twiddle my
thumbs, I thought I could catch up on some e-mails that I missed while in the
air. I pulled my notebook and phone out and connected to the Internet but the
incredibly alert hostess was all over me. I was told I couldn’t use my phone. I
was brave enough to ask why. The hostess told me that the electromagnetic
radiation from the phone could affect the navigation equipment. I looked out
the window at the tarmac of Brisbane Airport and told the hostess that if the
pilot needed navigation equipment to work out where we were right now, we were
in a lot of trouble. The look from the hostess told me I should just put my
phone away.

The ridiculous part of this situation is that
people are of the belief that mobile phones were originally banned by the
Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the US. It was actually the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) that originally prohibited the use of mobile
phones aboard aircraft and it had nothing to do with aircraft safety. They were
originally banned to prevent disruption to cellular towers on the ground. The original
analogue (AMPS) mobile network re-used frequencies on non-adjacent towers so a
mobile phone at height could potentially reach too many towers thus causing
interference with the mobile phone network.

There has been extensive testing conducted by
a variety of organisations and, to this day, there has been no conclusive proof
that an active mobile phone will cause interference to the aircraft. Further to
technical research, separate surveys have shown that, on average, there are 15
phones on each international flight and 5 phones on every domestic flight that
are left on and fully operational and further research shows there are three
per cent of people who never turn their phone off.

The airlines own the planes so they are fully
within their rights to tell people how to behave on their planes but if active
mobile phones were a major issue than it would not be left to passengers to
make the decision to turn off phones. Phones would be collected at the entrance
to the plane.

Even though there are no technical reasons to
ban mobile phones on modern aircraft, I am thankful for one aspect. I am not
sure if I would want to sit beside a passenger for an entire flight while they
talk to their kindergarten child about their day at school. Hearing some of
these types of conversations as you board the aircraft is one thing but for an
entire flight? Maybe the ban isn’t such a bad idea after all…

Mathew Dickerson


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