The Conversation: Here’s the real reason to turn on airplane mode when traveling

Why does the aviation industry continue to ban the use of cell phones? Photo / 123RF

We all know the routine by heart: “Please ensure your seats are in an upright position, tablets are stored, window shades are up, laptops are stored in overhead bins and electronic devices are in airplane mode”.

Now, the first four are reasonable, right? The blinds need to be up so we can see if there is an emergency, like a fire. Trays need to be stowed and seats upright so we can get out of the row quickly. Laptops can become projectiles in an emergency because the seat back pockets aren’t strong enough to hold them.

And cell phones must be set to airplane mode so they cannot cause a plane emergency, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Technology has come a long way

Air navigation and communications rely on radio services, which have been coordinated to minimize interference since the 1920s.

The digital technology in use today is much more advanced than some of the older analog technology we used 60 years ago. Research has shown that personal electronic devices can emit a signal in the same frequency band as the aircraft’s communication and navigation systems, creating what is known as electromagnetic interference.

But in 1992, the United States Federal Aviation Authority and Boeing, in an independent study, investigated the use of electronic devices on aircraft interference and found no problems with computers or other devices. personal electronics during non-critical phases of flight. (Takeoffs and landings are considered the critical phases.)

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has also begun creating reserved frequency bandwidths for different uses — such as cell phones and air navigation and communications — so they don’t interfere with each other. Governments around the world have developed the same strategies and policies to prevent aviation interference issues. In the EU, electronic devices have been allowed to remain on since 2014.

In-flight use of phones does not currently affect aircraft operability.  Photo / 123RF
In-flight use of phones does not currently affect aircraft operability. Photo / 123RF

2.2 billion passengers

Why then, with these global standards in place, has the aviation industry continued to ban the use of cell phones? One of the problems is something you might not expect – ground interference.

Wireless networks are connected by a series of towers; networks could become overloaded if passengers flying over these ground networks all use their phones. The number of passengers who traveled in 2021 was over 2.2 billion, half the number of passengers in 2019. Wireless companies might have a point here.

Of course, when it comes to mobile networks, the biggest change in recent years is the move to a new standard. Today’s 5G wireless networks – desirable for their higher speed data transfer – have caused concern among many in the aviation industry.

The radio frequency bandwidth is limited, but we are always trying to add new devices to it. The aviation industry points out that the bandwidth spectrum of the 5G wireless network is remarkably close to the bandwidth spectrum reserved for aviation, which can cause interference with navigation systems near airports that help to plane landing.

Airport operators in Australia and the United States have raised aviation safety concerns related to the 5G rollout, but it appears to have passed without such issues in the European Union. Either way, it’s prudent to limit cell phone use on airplanes while 5G issues are resolved.

In the end we can’t forget the air rage

Most airlines now offer paid or free Wi-Fi services to their customers. With new Wi-Fi technologies, passengers could theoretically use their mobile phones to make video calls with friends or customers in flight.

On a recent flight, I spoke with a cabin attendant and asked her opinion on phone use during flights. It would be an inconvenience for cabin crew to wait until passengers have finished their call to ask if they want drinks or something to eat, she said. On an airliner with more than 200 passengers, in-flight service would take longer if everyone was making phone calls.

For me, the problem with using phones in flight is more about the social experience of having 200+ people on a plane, and all of them potentially talking at the same time. At a time when disruptive passenger behaviors including “air rage” are on the rise, in-flight phone use could be another trigger that alters the entire flight experience.

Disruptive behavior takes many forms, from disregarding safety requirements such as not wearing seat belts, verbal altercations with other passengers and cabin crew, to physical altercations with passengers and flight attendants. cabin – usually identified as air rage.

In conclusion, the use of phones in flight does not affect the ability of the aircraft to operate. But cabin crew may prefer not to be delayed to provide in-flight service to all passengers – there are plenty of people to serve.

However, 5G technology encroaches on the radio bandwidth of aircraft navigation systems; we will need more research to answer the 5G question regarding interference with aircraft navigation during landings. Remember that when we discuss the two most critical phases of flight, takeoffs are optional, but landings are mandatory.

Doug Drury, Professor/Chief of Aviation, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The conversation
The conversation

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.