Friday, February 13, 2009
PLANE CRASHES: DID THE CELL PHONE DO IT?
You still can't use a cell phone on board a plane, but why? There is not a shred of scientific evidence to suggest, as the F.C.C worries, that cell phones interfere with a plane's avionics. But, since 1991, the government has banned the use of cell phones in planes, because of fears, not evidence that the phones could knock an airplane out of the sky.
About four years ago, the industry asked passengers whether they'd like to see the ban lifted. An overwhelming number of fliers said, "no." But, the airlines don't like explaining why so many people balked at the privilege. It, in fact, had nothing to do with fears that the plane would crash, but because passengers simply wanted peace and quiet on board.
Most experts agree that the F.C.C ban stems more from "what could happen," verses what "would happen." Rick Seaney, CEO of FareCompare.com and ABCNews.com airline industry columnist, agreed that hard evidence backing up the ban is scarce.
"It's a myth," Seaney said. "It's a suggestion more than an edict. ... I think it's a fear of the unknown."
The airlines don't want to take any chances either. Why would they, in this litigious society. As soon as the ban is lifted and a plane crashes for no reason whatsoever, you can bet passengers will be lining up to sue not only the airlines, but the cell phone manufacturers.
Here's what the F.A.A, the F.C.C and the airline industry should do: Send up a pilotless 747 with 250 cell phones on board, activated from the ground by remote control and have them make and accept phone calls. Certainly, 250 cell phones going off all at once would be the ultimate test of whether on-board electronics are compromised or worst yet, whether any interruption would actually down a plane.
But, Alas, several European and Asian air carriers have contracted the services of OnAir, a company that outfits jetliners with its own mini-cell. The device essentially links the personal cell phones of passengers with an on board cell tower that diverts the signal directly to ground towers. This steers away the errant signal from crucial on board avionics. In April 2008, Air France became the first airline to use the technology. Several Middle Eastern and Asian airlines have followed suit. Knock on wood, not a single one of their planes has crashed.
Seems to me this would be the technology American airlines should deploy, if they want to be on the safe side, but guess what, it doesn't matter. Remember that survey the airlines did? Most passengers wanted no part of cell phones on board planes, not because they're scaredy cats, but because they don't want 250 Chatty Patty's on board disturbing the peace. Isn't it funny, though, when passengers learn that their plane might be about to crash, like the folks on board doomed Flight 93 or more recently on the U.S. Airways jet that belly-flopped in the Hudson River, that's the first thing passengers did. They made phone calls. So, even when many of the 155 people on board the U.S. Airways plane made calls, Capt. Chesley Sullenberger was able to land his plane with perfection. Can't blame the phones on that crash.