US airline cell phone ban: In-flight calls could be banned

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption NTSB president Robert Sumwalt says that passengers want information more than voice signals Electronic equipment can’t be completely banned from flights, says the head of the US National…

US airline cell phone ban: In-flight calls could be banned

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption NTSB president Robert Sumwalt says that passengers want information more than voice signals

Electronic equipment can’t be completely banned from flights, says the head of the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Sandy Thaler argued that the ban may be abused and passengers do want details on delays and cancellations.

However, NTSB president Robert Sumwalt said the board will not vote to adopt his proposal.

“It seems like we have a lot of new technology out there,” he said.

Mr Sumwalt wants to eliminate cell phone use on all international flights for safety reasons. He expressed concern that people could be tricked into making calls by false information on aircraft displays.

When he first issued the safety warning in May 2016, he described it as “reasonable”.

Other US and European regulators are sympathetic to the reason behind the ban.

Proposals from European regulators call for a ban on cell phone calls on direct flights, although on indirect flights connecting with flights in the European Union, the use of an in-flight mobile phone is permitted.

Image copyright AFP Image caption American Airlines has decided to suspend phone calls on flights, while British Airways has banned it for all flights

“If the owners of the airplane don’t want people on board to talk on mobile phones, that’s their business,” Mr Sumwalt said.

“But if people want more information on delays and cancellations than just what the last departure information is, then we probably shouldn’t discriminate against that.”

Mr Sumwalt’s caution is also likely to be echoed in China, where local news reports quote the government as saying such phone calls could disrupt emergency response systems.

However, US laws governing telecommunications were passed by both parties, and Congress has never passed legislation to overturn the ban, although a group called Cumbria Citizens Against the Ban has been lobbying on the issue.

The group posted the comments below their stance on the decision.

Image copyright Graphic

In many ways, Mr Sumwalt’s aim is not new. In 1998, when commercial jetliners were still designed to use hand-held portable radios, the Federal Communications Commission formally recommended cell phone bans for domestic flights.

However, as has since been demonstrated, the ban has not been adequately enforced – and that had been largely by accident.

After two jetliners made emergency landings in the US in April 2007, emergency dispatchers were unable to contact the pilots for several minutes. During the same period, a cellular phone network in Massachusetts was running into problems.

Image copyright EPA Image caption Mr Sumwalt says the disruption of communication is a reason why the ban should be effective

The NTSB has long argued that a ban on cell phone use is one of the few safe aviation regulations, after repeated concerns over noise and fuel consumption.

It joined the growing chorus of regulators in 2014 urging cellphone bans on international flights to try to counter “unsafe” risks posed by distracting passengers during flight.

The new board has now offered the same point of view.

The issue may now come back to the NTSB for a second, possibly even third, time, but in the near term the solution looks unlikely to be an outright ban.

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