Airlines must ban cell phone use, says pilot

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Pilots say they’re uneasy about cell phone use because of the amount of time they must be on standby

A pilot in the United States has called for laws to ban airplane cell phone use.

Airlines can allow the use of small handheld devices on flights for short distances in view of the aircraft in the event of a technical fault.

But it must be switched off until the airline is able to air a plane.

“Do we really want to be left to fathom infinite cell phone calls on a 24-hour flight?” asks Gary Beck, one of the captains of a Boeing 767 airline.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Flights from Heathrow to Orlando are allowed during the middle of the night

“Calls go out anytime there is a problem. It will end in disaster,” he told the Britain’s aviation website Flightglobal.

He said he was also concerned about the amount of time the crew must be on standby.

Tests have shown that in near-zero gravity, a call will interfere with aircraft systems, and the crews are only authorised to have cell phones with the capacity to make voice calls.

However, there are other systems to handle such interruptions.

“At some point the crew has to pull you back in because it is interfering,” said Mr Beck.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) defines the functions pilots must turn off for take-off and landing.

These include in-flight satellite communications (ITC) devices, mobile phones, and electronic flight bags.

But for most international flights this does not affect the duration of a call, and aviation organisations in the US and the European Union have said this does not constitute a ban.

The US Federal Aviation Administration, which authorises all domestic air travel, said in August 2018 that cell phone use did not pose safety risks, while many airlines say it is not allowed for safety reasons.

While some airlines do allow cell phone use, it is not widespread.

Small electronic devices may be used in a cabin, but iPads, for example, must be completely turned off if a call is made.

Flight attendants at Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world, say their main worry is a disturbance with the flight crew on a high-profile route, or a freak accident.

A spokeswoman said flight attendants had concerns about not being able to talk to someone on the ground or the crew in the cockpit, as well as working and sleeping at the same time.

“The female pilot could be on the plane talking to someone while she is supposed to be asleep, or they might go the wrong way. Passengers might be in a complete panic,” she said.

Airlines, including British Airways, US carrier American Airlines and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, do not allow laptops, tablets or e-readers onboard the aircraft during take-off and landing.

Instead, the FAA has told airlines they must allow passengers to use these devices at arm’s length once the aircraft is in the air for more than 5-10 minutes.

This means passengers cannot have laptops, for example, in check-in luggage before boarding the plane.

Emirates’ chief operating officer, Akbar Al Baker, is determined to allow passengers to use such devices on board.

Asked in April by the BBC’s Mary Portas that he was unlikely to follow the rest of the industry and ban cell phone use, he replied: “In the future I think you will see us follow the industry and we should have that capability.”

Mr Al Baker, who appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories to appear as himself on the ITV programme, later added: “People should be able to use their mobile phones at that time, they shouldn’t be fined.”

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