Study finds mobiles interfere with aircraft equipment

6 May 2003

A recent study by the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has proved that mobile phone transmissions made by airline passengers can interfere with aircraft equipment. While most airlines have banned the use of mobile phones for some time, evidence of their danger had been fairly limited.

The UK’s existing ban on mobile phone use on board aircraft was based upon initial research performed in February 2000. The latest study found that the use of mobile telephones can adversely affect navigation and communication functions, producing significant errors on instrument displays and background noise on audio outputs.

The research backed up reports from pilots, who had stated that interference from mobiles has caused phenomena such as false notification of unsafe conditions, malfunction of aircraft systems, interrupted communications due to noise in the flight crew headphones and distraction of crews from their normal duties due to increased work levels and the possibility of having to invoke emergency drills.

“The tests demonstrate that mobile telephone use near an aircraft’s flight deck or avionics equipment bay can adversely affect systems that are essential for safe flight. For safety reasons the current policy of prohibiting the use of mobile telephones by passengers while the aircraft’s doors are closed for flight must continue,” said Dan Hawkes, an avionics specialist at the CAA who supervised the research.

The report recommended that the existing ban remain in place, while advocating further measures to ensure that all mobile phones are switched off prior to the aircraft doors closing.

By Dick O’Brien