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Do cell phones really interfere with an airplane’s instruments?


One of the most common experiences of flying on an airline today is placing your cell phone on “airplane mode” once you are settled into your seat. But, in reality, is having a cell phone turned on in a plane really causing interference with the overall flight control systems?

Most people on a flight will disable their phones because they believe it will interfere with the navigation and flight systems. But, in reality, a cell phone may not have much of an affect on the systems at all. According to pilot and author of the book, Cockpit Confidential, Patrick Smith, a cell phone could go either way with regard to interference.

“Can cellular equipment,” says Smith, “really disrupt cockpit equipment? The answer is potentially yes, but in all likelihood, no. The airlines and the FAA are just erring on the side of being safe.”

While Smith says that nothing is, of course, guaranteed, airliner flight and navigation equipment and systems are heavily shielded and protected from general interference. The cell phone can interfere when it is on, of course, but it must be placed into airplane mode because even if it is on, but not in use, it still has the potential to maybe cause some damage to the equipment.

Smith also states that he knows that at least half of all phones remain on during particular flights. Some people forget while others just don’t care. All they care about is their addiction. Smith believes that if cell phones were a serious threat, there would be stronger enforcement but, for now, there isn’t.

Despite a couple of flights where cell phones did interfere and cause damage, those incidents are extremely rare says Smith. Sometimes, though, a pilot can actually hear a cell phone coming through his headset. Though cell phones, it seems, present an unlikely threat, Smith wants to keep the current policy in place.

“The minute it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that phones are safe, a percentage of flyers will demand the right to use them pitting one angry group of travelers with another and leaving the carriers in the middle. The airplane cabin is the last refuge of silence. Let’s keep it that way.