When Gila Drazen takes a flight, she frequently forgets or fails to put her phone in aeroplane mode.
“It’s due to laziness. It’s simply laziness “She told USA TODAY about it.
Drazen is far from alone. Despite the fact that it is not a well-studied question, a 2017 survey by Allianz Global Assistance discovered that approximately 40% of passengers left their cell service on while flying.
However, Federal Aviation Administration regulations still require all passengers to fly in aeroplane mode. That is why, on every flight, an announcement is made.
“FAA regulations prohibit the use of certain portable electronic devices on aircraft unless the operator determines they will not interfere with navigation or communication systems,” according to a statement from the agency.
However, changes are possible.
European regulators recently allowed 5G-enabled mobile devices to keep their transmitters turned on during flights, and experts believe the US will follow suit. However, this does not mean that everyone will be able to make phone calls from the air tomorrow. When it comes to aeroplane safety, not all cell service is created equal.
So, what’s the big deal if you don’t put your phone in aeroplane mode today, particularly if you have a non-5G phone?
“My theory was always that it was something to do with crowd control. Similarly, when they started talking about cellphone service in the subway, we all assumed that everyone would get on the phone and just talk talk talk “Drazen stated. “My concern is what my passive consumption of cellphone signal might do, you know?”
Why should I put my phone in aeroplane mode?
It’s a matter of safety for you and your fellow passengers, according to experts and the FAA.
According to Shawn Pruchnicki, a professor at The Ohio State University’s Center for Aviation Studies, the main issue is potential interference with an airplane’s navigation systems.
“Where it really counts is when we’re doing an instrument landing,” he said. “Those signals are extremely precise, and the autopilot that sends them is equally so. This is not the time for any variation, especially with terrain to consider.”
According to the FAA’s statement, in order to allow passengers to use their cell phones onboard, operators must demonstrate that the devices will not interfere with the plane’s communication or navigation systems.
“There is no extensive testing on all of the different types of aeroplanes combined with all of the different types of cellphones,” Pruchnicki explained. “There are a plethora of different combinations here.”
Most phones, he explained, aren’t powerful enough to connect to cell towers on the ground at cruising altitude, but they drain your battery trying to connect anyway.
What could possibly go wrong?
In theory, electronic interference could cause a plane crash, but there is no evidence that this has ever occurred.
“From an accident investigation standpoint, we have no evidence that this has caused an accident, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be responsible for or cause an accident,” Pruchnicki said. “This is even more of a mystery because the newer aircraft we have on the ground are even more sophisticated and reliant on automation.”
Pruchnicki went on to say that the Federal Communications Commission has discovered that cellphones that aren’t in flight mode can overload ground networks, particularly during takeoff and landing when they try to connect to multiple towers at once.
What makes aeroplane Wi-Fi unique? What about 5G technology?
Many airlines offer onboard internet access, which passengers can use on their personal devices even while in aeroplane mode. According to Pruchnicki, onboard Wi-Fi systems do not pose the same risks as cell networks.
They operate at lower power and different frequencies than cellphones and pose less of an interference risk.
Similarly, 5G uses wavelengths that are less likely than older-generation cell services to interfere with aeroplane instruments.
“In theory, any wireless device could interfere with aeroplane systems like the radio altimeter,” said Eduardo Rojas-Nastrucci, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. “In the case of 5G, there are bands that are far enough away from the frequencies used by aeroplanes that the risk is minimal.”
Because the issue has not been thoroughly researched and tested, most experts believe that following FAA regulations is simply common sense.
“With no plans to investigate this with any certainty, and because it’s pretty uncommon to be able to receive a signal above 10 or 15,000 feet, there’s really no point in putting safety at risk to change this restriction,” Pruchnicki said. “With so many unknowns and a lack of testing, why would you risk the flight just to tell your family you’re five minutes away from landing?”
Even if the risk is low, Rojas-Nastrucci advises those with older-generation cell phones to continue using aeroplane mode as 5G service becomes more common and the airline industry moves toward allowing cell phone use in flight.
“On a highway, if you have a car right next to you in the lane, there’s a higher risk of interfering than if the car is 10 lanes away,” he said, adding that the technology that enables 5G use onboard is unlikely to be compatible with older-generation receivers.
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Drazen, on the other hand, believes she’ll just keep forgetting to flip the switch.
“Is that going to make a difference in my behaviour? Most likely not, “She stated. “Will I feel guilty if my plane crashes? 100%. Is that a risk I’m willing to take? I’m not certain.”