The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is moving to maintain a ban on use of cellular phones for mobile calls during flights. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has set in motion a move to roll back the FCC’s earlier proposal to start allowing in-flight voice calls.
“I stand with airline pilots, flight attendants and America’s flying public against the FCC’s ill-conceived 2013 plan to allow people to make cellphone calls on planes. I do not believe that moving forward with this plan is in the public interest. Taking it off the table permanently will be a victory for Americans across the country who, like me, value a moment of quiet at 30,000 feet,” he said in a statement.
U.S. adopted the ban on cellular calls in 1991 fearing interference to the aircraft’s communication systems due to frequencies that cellular telephony would operate on. Technological advancements have overcome that obstacle.
In 2013, the then FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, had proposed allowing voice calls in flight based on that logic. “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers,” Wheeler said in a press statement.
Not only did that make some airline customers uncomfortable, airlines and airline crews came out in opposition to the move. “Our customer research and direct feedback tell us that our frequent flyers believe voice calls in the cabin would be a disruption to the travel experience,” said Delta Airlines in a statement.
Some of Wheeler’s own colleagues in the government questioned his proposal.
“Over the past few weeks, we have heard of concerns raised by airlines, travelers, flight attendants, members of Congress and others who are all troubled over the idea of passengers talking on cellphones in flight – and I am concerned about this possibility as well,” said then Department of Transportation (DoT) Secretary Anthony Foxx in a statement the very next month.
In September 2015, DoT’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protection recommended that “if safe and secure,” the department leave it to the airlines to decide on permitting in-flight voice calls. Eventually the DoT also began leaning in the direction of allowing voice calls. In December last year, however, it proposed requiring that airlines that choose to allow voice calls must disclose to passengers that they make this provision before the ticket is purchased.
“The Department is also seeking comment on whether disclosure is sufficient or whether it should simply ban voice calls on flights within, to, or from the United States,” said the DoT.
In its statement, the Transportation Department noted that as technology advances, the cost of in-flight calls will drop and the quality will improve – and that this communications ease could result in "leading to a higher prevalence of voice calls and a greater risk of passenger harm."
Media reports suggest that every time a government agency has sought comments on rules pertaining to this subject, it has received negative feedback by the thousands. The most recent attempt according to this report by Wired, saw more than 8,000 people logging in and leaving comments for the DoT, mostly against permitting calls.