Portable Electronic Devices on Aircraft

Cell phones, laptops, tablets, we are all seemingly glued to them nowadays. Their use on aircraft was restricted to periods while the aircraft was above 10,000 feet and at all times in a non-cellular mode of operation. This was due to concerns of interference from the transmitters. The non-cellular mode rule was due to the FCC and not the FAA. While the FAA wanted to be sure that personal devices did not interfere with the aircraft’s reception and transmission of radio signals and communications, the main concern was the tying up and jamming cell towers with a multitude of signals.

The regulations have changed in the past few years and now portable electronic devices may be used at all times on domestic routes and always in a non-cellular mode of operation, with certain exceptions. For international operations, the “above 10,000 in altitude rule” still applies. This has pleased many passengers as inflight entertainment options have been in steady decline.

If one has noticed, the non-smoking sign had been repurposed in recent years for the chime to act as notification for passengers and cabin crew that the aircraft was above 10,000 feet. Some airlines even installed “portable electronic device indicator lights” in the cabins in place of the non-smoking lights with the chime still in use. With the ability for air carriers to determine if their aircraft are resistant to interference from electronic devices, these chimes and lights are now becoming obsolete.

Recent technological developments are creating opportunities for some air carriers to allow the use of mobile phones in flight and allowing for cellular service. These new devices will be called “Picocells.” These devices will be integrated directly into the aircraft’s systems and act as small mobile phone towers. These small base stations will relay cellular phone signals to ground-based or satellite-based stations. No doubt much to the chagrin of passengers attempting to sleep or relax in relative quiet. We will see what happens with that.