Frequent travelers have always been skeptical that using cell phones during flights on commercial aircraft could interfere with the delicate electronics on modern airplanes. The FAA seemed to share that skepticism when they opened up the debate to the public to gather information about how air travelers would feel about lifting the ban of cell phone use during flights. The Scientific American points to a recent study by Carnegie Mellon University that concluded that the use of cell phones and other personal electronic devices (PEDs) could in fact endanger the avionics on aircraft.
Recently, however, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University concluded that cell phones and other PEDs could endanger the normal operation of critical navigation systems on aircraft. After monitoring radio emissions from portable electronics during airline flights (with an antenna and spectrum analyzer that fit into a carry-on bag), they estimate that an average of one to four cellular calls are made from the cabin during each trip–despite the ban. The researchers also determined that some of the emissions from mobile phones occurred in frequencies employed by Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, which are increasingly vital for safe landings. In addition, the study warned that avionics that operate at non-cell phone frequencies could encounter interference when nearby wireless signals interact and generate spurious spikes in other frequency ranges.
Whether one believes in the danger or not it does give one pause to consider whether that is a risk worth taking, especially when the only benefit is to allow your fellow travelers to talk on their cell phones.