In 1991, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) banned passengers from using their cell phones while on board an airplane that is in flight. The ban was instituted because the FCC suspected that the radio frequency emitted by these phones could malfunction an airplane's equipment systems. In complying with this rule, different airlines have instituted different policies about when phones can be turned on and off. In 2005, the FCC announced that it might consider lifting the ban on the use of cell phones on airplanes, with certain restrictions.
The FCC regulates the use of all electronic devices, including mobile phones, on airplanes under the assumption that they may affect the communication systems on board. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) agrees with the FCC that these devices may cause substantial interference with aircraft systems and supports the ban for all commercially operated airplanes. The use of mobile phones on private or charter planes is not regulated, however, and many private flights permit passengers to use their phones while in flight.
Lots of debate has surrounded the use of cell phones on airplanes. The primary concern is that mobile phones may interfere with the navigation and communication systems of the plane, potentially resulting in devastating failure. Numerous airlines have reported disruptions in cabin pressure, compass function, and wireless navigation systems associated with the use of mobile phones on board. The FCC, it seems, erred on the side of caution when it enforced an outright ban on the use of radio frequency emitting devices which could potentially cause an aircraft to crash.
There have also been some reports that the use of cell phones on planes may cause disruptions in ground communications because of interference. Others claim that the airlines and the FCC would simply prefer that consumers use the telecommunications systems mounted on most seat backs in commercial airplanes, because these phones are said to be highly profitable. Newer phones are capable of operating on very low power settings, which may not interfere with the aircraft as much. The FCC is attempting to establish an acceptable threshold of radio frequency emissions, so phones could be used on airplanes without any fear of the navigation system failing or service on the ground being disrupted.