By Peter Quain
In March of this year the Dubai based Emirates Airlines became the first airline to allow mobile calls and texts to be sent and received during flights. The first in flight permitted mobile calls were made on an Airbus A340 that was traveling from Dubai to Casablanca. (Literally hundreds of not permitted calls are made everyday.) The plane was specially fitted with equipment that prevents the calls from affecting the electric flight systems. Currently this system doesn’t support Blackberries or other smart phones but there are plans to modify it so that they too can be supported. The system is only allowed once the plane reaches cruising altitude and can be monitored and controlled by the flight crew. In order not to disturb passengers the crew does ask the phones be set to vibrate and the entire system is deactivated during night flights. Emirates Airlines has obtained this system from Aeromobile and it has been approved by international air safety standards. The Aeromobile system is designed to intercept mobile phone signals and make sure they don’t interfere with the planes system but is there a real danger to making or receiving calls without this kind of system?
ABC’s 20/20 interviewed electromagnetic interference specialist Bill Strauss, who says, “The evidence strongly supports that there is a risk.” Cell phones and other mobile devices emit strong radio signals that could cause false readouts on different types of navigational equipment. Strauss and other researchers from Carnegie Mellon University created a device that detects radio emissions from cell phones. They put this device on 37 commercial flights and discovered that on each flight one to four cell phone calls were placed. The aviation safety database has never confirmed that an accident has been caused by in flight cell phone use however there have been several incidents reported that pilots believe were cause by cell phones or other electronic devices. Even though risk from in flight calls is thought to be very limited, neither the FCC nor FAA have done much to access the situation and so the airlines are forced to continue to ban the use of the devices during flight. Europe is taking a step towards in flight communication by using devices similar to the one Aeromobile designed for Emirates and strangely these systems are also popping up in the US but until the service ban on cell phones is lifted they can only be used for wireless internet access.