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Is it really safe to use a cellphone on a plane?

5:39 AM, Nov 20, 2012   |    comments
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It's a process that's been in place since the early 1990s when the FCC and FAA banned the use of electronic devices during take-off. More than two decades later, many are wondering: is it still a problem?

"The FAA kind of picked up on that and said, 'Well, we're not sure what the effect ... all of these electronics would have on the avionics," Jeff Price, an aviation expert based out of Denver, said.

Twenty years later, the FAA is still unsure. But the fear is, taking off in a plane with your cellphone or other portable electronic devices on could wreak havoc on ground stations and cellphone towers. That's because the further you are from a signal, the more energy your devices produce.

"It sends cellphone signals into high-power mode, and then they start sending from station to station," Price said.

But, would it really cause that much of a problem?

"There have been a few studies that show there are no impacts," Price said.

Price says the FAA has allowed things like iPads in the cockpit for pilots, and the studies have shown there are little to no effects on signal jams.

"What they don't know is what happens when 157 passengers turn on their cellphones and iPads and Nooks and other electronic devices. What that impact will be to the cockpit," Price explained.

It's really that variable the FAA is challenged by, especially when it comes to landing a plane.

"It could tell them they're too high when really they're too low, and all of a sudden, they hit an obstacle or come in and hit the ground too early," Price said.

Then, there's the social factor. Within the next three to five years, Price believes airplanes will have transmitters installed on them allowing people to use their cellphones in flight. The big question then would be: would you really want to sit next to a person who's talking nonstop on a plane for a couple of hours?

"People like being off the grid for a couple of hours. And no one wants to be sitting next to the loud talker on their cellphone," Price said.

Some European airlines already have the technology installed. But they charge to use it - sometimes five bucks per minute.

"It's going to be like the European model at first. You're going to pay to play," Price said.

Price says the FAA hasn't put too much effort in to making cellphone and electronic use a priority during the entire flight, because, quite frankly, there are bigger things to deal with.

"It's a simple solution right now. Turn off your phone. When you're above 10,000 feet, go back to playing Angry Birds. We're fine with that," Price says.

The FAA recently said it would start studying the issue of using your cellphones on planes to make calls. But that's still a ways off. The earliest a recommendation for the study could come is March 2013.

(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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