[Politech] Politicians ponder whether cell phones will be used on planes [fs]

From: Declan McCullagh (declan@private)
Date: Tue Jul 12 2005 - 22:49:26 PDT

 From a hearing announcement (House subcommittee on aviation)...


Thursday's Witness List

Panel I

- Nicholas Sabatini, Associate Administrator for Aviation Safety, 
Federal Aviation Administration

- Julius Knapp, Deputy Chief, Office of Engineering and Technology, 
Federal Communications Commission

- Laura Parsky, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division, 
U.S. Department of Justice

- David Watrous, President, RTCA, Inc.

Panel II

- Patricia A. Friend, International President, Association of Flight 
Attendants - CWA, AFL-CIO

- Greeley Koch, President, Association of Corporate Travel Executives

- Paul Guckian, Senior Director, Technology, Qualcomm, Inc.
Background Information

             The primary focus of the hearing is to examine the public 
safety, national security and social implications of the FCC's proposed 
rule change.

The FCC is charged with regulating interstate and international 
communications by wire and radio.  Since 1991, FCC regulations have 
prohibited the use of certain cellular phones and wireless 
communications devices on aircraft out of concern that such devices 
interfere with ground-based cellular phone networks.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations currently prohibit the 
use of cellular phones, wireless communications devices and other 
portable electronic devices (PEDs) with radio transmitters (e.g., 
BlackBerry handhelds) while onboard U.S.-registered civil aircraft 
because of concerns related to interference with aircraft communications 
and navigation equipment, or "avionics."  However, portable voice 
recorders, hearing aids, heart pacemakers and electronic shavers are 
permitted.  The FAA does allow passengers to use PEDs without radio 
transmitters (e.g., portable video games, MP3/CD players, and laptops) 
at altitudes above 10,000 feet, on a case-by-case basis.

Due to this overlapping jurisdiction, any change to the existing ban on 
aircraft cell phone use would require the approval of both the FAA and FCC.

In December 2004, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) 
that would effectively allow the use of cellular phones and wireless 
communications devices on aircraft equipped with new types of 
technology, including "pico cell" networks and wireless Internet or 
"WiFi" networks, that would allow passengers to use cell phones and 
other wireless devices without generating interference with ground-based 
cellular networks or aircraft communications and navigation equipment. 
The FCC hopes to issue a final ruling in 2006, stating that its ultimate 
objective is to allow consumers to use their own wireless devices during 

Even if the FCC finalizes its proposed rule lifting its ban on aircraft 
cell phone use, the FAA has no intention to lift its long-standing ban 
on the use of cellular phone and wireless communications devices.  The 
FAA has asked the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), a 
Federal Advisory Committee consisting of over 250 government, industry 
and academic organizations, to conduct a study into whether wireless 
communication devices such as cell phones, BlackBerry handhelds, PDAs 
and certain laptops interfere with aircraft navigation and 
communications equipment.  The RTCA study will not be completed until 
December 2006.

Notwithstanding the results of the RTCA study, the FAA plans to review 
the safety implications of new wireless communications technology, 
including pico cells and WiFi networks, on a case-by-case basis.  If the 
FAA concludes that a cell phone or other device linked to one of these 
networks will not interfere with avionics or impede the safe operation 
of the aircraft in any way, the FAA will certify the device for use 
onboard aircraft at altitudes above 10,000 feet.

If the FCC lifts its cell phone ban and the FAA approves the use of cell 
phones and other wireless devices on aircraft, the airlines would have 
to set their own policies governing the use of such devices by air 
National Security Implications

Although passengers used cell phones during the 9/11 hijackings to 
contact family and friends and provide updates to law enforcement 
officials, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department 
of Justice (DOJ) raised several national security-related concerns in 
their joint comments to the FCC about cell phone use on aircraft.

DHS and DOJ maintained that the use of personal cell phones onboard 
aircraft could potentially facilitate a coordinated attack between:

(1) a person on the aircraft and a person on the ground;

(2) persons traveling on different aircraft; and/or

(3) persons traveling on the same aircraft located in different sections 
of the cabin, who could communicate with one another using their 
personal wireless telephones.

Due to these concerns, DHS and DOJ requested that the FCC require that 
all wireless/air-to-ground carriers/pico cell providers: (1) create and 
maintain the capability to record (and do record) at some central, 
land-based storage facility located within the United States, at a 
minimum, non-content call records relating to all calls processed to and 
from wireless telephones onboard aircraft; (2) maintain the ability to 
interrupt and redirect a communication in progress on a given aircraft; 
(3) provide the ability to transmit emergency law enforcement/public 
safety information to airborne and terrestrial resources; and (4) 
provide law enforcement with immediate access to call records upon 
lawful request.

DHS and DOJ also expressed concern that the potential for terrorists and 
other criminals to use communications devices as remote-controlled 
improvised explosive devices would be increased if air passengers were 
allowed to use personally owned wireless phones and similar 
communications devices in flight.
Human Factors

Major airlines are unsure whether to advocate publicly for the removal 
of the cell phone ban, and to what extent they would allow passengers to 
use wireless communications on flights.  A recent poll of 702 air 
travelers conducted by Lauer Research for the Association of Flight 
Attendants (AFA) found that 63 percent opposed the lifting of cell phone 
restrictions on commercial aircraft and 70 percent wanted separate 
'non-phone' seating sections if the aircraft cell phone ban is lifted. 
Most of those who wanted the ban to remain in place were frequent 
business travelers.  According to the poll, the principal objection to 
the use of phones in aircraft is annoyance.  As a result, some airlines 
and cellular providers support a "tap not talk" policy that would allow 
air passengers to use discreet forms of communication, like text 
messaging, e-mails and Internet access, but not voice communication.

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