Researchers: Using mobile phones on planes can disrupt operations

Airlines need to do a better job of keeping passengers from using mobile phones and laptops during flight because interference caused by such gear could cause accidents, according to a new study.

Carnegie-Mellon University researcher Bill Strauss said in a statement that: "These devices can disrupt normal operation of key cockpit instruments, especially GPS receivers, which are increasingly vital for safe landings." The study by Strauss and others at Carnegie-Mellon's Department of Engineering and Public Policy is appearing in the IEEE Spectrum magazine this month.

The researchers traveled on commercial planes back and forth across the northeast United States, with support from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and three major airlines, to monitor radio emissions from electronic devices used by passengers. They used a portable spectrum analyzer and broadband antenna.

Among other things, they found that one to four cell phone calls are usually made during every flight, some while the plane is heading up or making its final approach.

The researchers recommend that the FAA and FCC coordinate on electronic emission standards and that airlines conduct routine monitoring of radio emissions via data recorders.

The FCC has said it would consider allowing wider use of cell phones on airplanes, an idea that has its share of detractors, both from a technical and quality of life standpoint.

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