From a hearing announcement (House subcommittee on aviation)...
Thursday's Witness List
- 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.
- 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.
The primary focus of the hearing is to examine the public
safety, national security and social implications of the FCC's proposed
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
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
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.
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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