Frequently Asked Questions

Do Cell Phones Interfere with the Navigation Systems of Modern Airliners?

The problem is that too many political agenda scaremongers have leapt upon this subject, to run with it, as they have with other fear subjects, because they are promoting their own political agendas.

Ralph Nader's incessant promotion of the bogus idea that airliner
cabin air is unsafe, is one gross example of what is going on, when the "consumer activists" claim things endanger you. I have already thoroughly refuted that horrible pack of lies, at:


Same thing has happened in the Cell Phone controversy.

The hard truth is, that despite years of studies by both the British CAA and the United States NASA, no negative effect on airliner safety has ever been found as a result of the use of cell phones on an airliner, by passengers in the cabin.

Yet, that has not prevented some govt bureaucrats, as well as "consumer activists" from trying to make you think that the opposite is true. They make reference to the British CAA report, as if it was loaded with evidence that cell phones are very dangerous to airliner navigation. But, the truth is that report doesn't make any case at all against cell phones, other than it is probably best that the pilots do not use them in the cockpits, during critical modes of navigation (because the phones would then be so close to the navigation equipment).

What the militant "activists" failed to include in their musings, as they seek to instill in you the fear that cell phones will cause crashes:

----They did not use the modern avionics, which modern airliners use, to conduct their tests. Apparently, that would have been too costly. So, they used the old avionics equipment, typically found in General Aviation aircraft, which is not nearly as protected against EM interference, as is the modern (and far more costly) avionics of Jetliners.

----They used output signal levels, which comes from cell phones, only at the highest end of what is normally observed in cell phone use. This somewhat comparable to feeding a bathtub of a chemical, per day to rats, to prove that substance can cause cancer.

Even with all that "worst possible case" rigged-scenario, standard of testing, they were not able to produce any instrument errors in the avionics equipment used in those tests, unless the cell phones were within 30 cm from that avionics equipment. As distance away from those avionics modules increases, the strength of the cell phone signals drops off rapidly. Since no passenger could ever get closer than a few meters to any avionics equipment on an airliner, it is quite logically concluded that cell phones do not present any kind of hazard to the safety of flight.

So, when you hear "activists" saying things like "cell phones interfere with aircraft navigation systems," they are stating falsehoods. If they have read summaries of those reports (honest ones), much less the entire reports, and still say that, they are bald-face liars.

When I was still flying, the reason given for the ban on cell phone use in flight, was that it was prohibited by FCC (not FAA) rules.

The FCC found that if cell phones are used in flight, they can illuminate many base ground stations at the same time. That causes all kinds of problems, as the system was designed to do "handoffs," from one base station to another, as the cell phone user travels across the effective boundaries of various base stations.

We did allow the use of the cellphones, while the doors were open at the blocks (a critical time for pilot navigation programming of the plane's computers, which will be guiding the plane along its entire flight, of up to 14 hours non-stop), and during taxi-in after landing. They never caused any problem that way, and we avoided having the FCC levy big fines on the airline, had we failed to enforce that bureaucracy's rules.

I think just about all pilots, most flight attendants and most passengers would agree that allowing cell phone use in flight would cause all kinds of problems in the cabins (it might even provoke instances of Air Rage!), so we remain opposed to changing the rules.

But, as to their use being a threat to the actual navigation safety of the aircraft, you can deep-six that one into the historical dust bin, which is the final fate of most of the fear-mongering scenarios perpetrated by those self-appointed "consumer activists," who have political axes to grind.

A final point:

The more the general public can be frightened into avoid traveling on airliners in the safer areas of the world, the higher the risk of transportation deaths goes. That is because airline transportation is far safer than transportation on our highways. If we are really interested in keeping the transportation death toll as low as possible, we will encourage everyone to fly, instead of driving, if they have that choice available to them.

Robert J. Boser    

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The Editor of this Web Page, now retired, was an airline pilot for 33 years and holds 6 specific Captain's type-ratings on Boeing Jet Airliners.


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