Cell phones really do interfere with avionics


Talking_on_cell_phone_2Frequent 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.




GSM phones are known to cause “buzzing” and “clicking” when they talk to the network and are placed near speakers. See


When I had a GSM phone, I could tell about a second before the phone would ring that a call was inbound, because my computer speakers would buzz and my computer monitor would show some weird noise signals.

Anton P. Nym

I work in a call centre and I can vouch for that “clicking” interference in headsets. It’s very annoying and distracting. That alone is a good reason to disallow the use of cell transmitters aboard an aircraft; in our centre, where the consequences are far less dire, using your cell phone can get you disciplined.

— Steve


As an airline pilot, I can tell you that ihave never noticed interference from a cell phone in the jet that I fly, however, I do not believe that the ban should be lifted for several reasons.

First, most passengers pay no attention to the flight attendants during briefings. Also, people have lost respect for the flight attendants and see them as a waitress and not the person trained to make sure the passengers are safe. In the case of an emergency, the flight attendant needs everyone cooperation and attention. If passengers are on the phone calling loved onesto say goodbye they will most likely miss the important instructions that the flight attendant is giving which could save their lives.

Second, as a pilot I can tell you that some cell phones create a loud and annoying clicking noise in the headsets of the pilots. This can be very distracting during flight critical procedures.

Third, their are so many different types of avionics in the various jets in the ari right now, that I cannot say for a surety that there is no interference. This is my opinion, but if there is the slightest chance of interference than the ban should stay. In bad weather flying into airports with mountains around the slightest deviation could be fatal. I do not think that any phone call can be more important than all the lives of the passengers and crew.

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