Using your phone on a plane: flight of fancy or real possibility?

The budget airline FlySafair recently made the news when it became known that this was the only local airline where cellphones were permitted to be switched on – even during take-off and landing.

Anyone that has boarded a domestic flight knows the drill: as soon as everyone’s boarded, airline staff take great care to ensure that all passengers have switched off their phones, or switched to airplane mode for take-off. The same procedure takes place just before the plane is about to land.

It now seems that the hullabaloo is all for naught, as the Civil Aviation Authority already issued a statement last year, allowing airlines to make their own decisions about the use of mobile devices on domestic flights.

FlySafair seems to be the only airline that has implemented the decision to allow the use of mobile devices on flights, despite an official directive allowing mobile use during taxi, take-off and landing not being issued by the CAA yet. Speaking to Kieno Kammies on 702, SA Flyer Magazine editor Guy Leitch said that this might be due to the minister of transport, Blade Nzimande not yet signing the new regulations or technical standards into force.

Aside from FlySafair, all other local airlines, including SAA, Kulula and even local British Airways flights still enforce the old regulations.

Speaking to Business Insider, SAA spokesperson Tladi Tladi said that the decision to still ban mobile use on flights is based on CAA regulations.

“We do so in compliance with CAA regulations. We tried to apply for exemption from this and did not succeed. We were told that keeping mobile devices on may lead to interference with aircraft avionics,” said Tladi.

The rule that phones should be switched off during take-off and landing seems to stem from US regulations that were issued two decades ago, after concerns that analogue signals from mobile phones could interfere with the electronics on planes.

Even now, with huge technological progress in tow, the website of the US Federal Aviation Administration still reads: “There are still unknowns about the radio signals that portable electronic devices and cell phones give off. These signals, especially in large quantities and emitted over a very long period of time may unintentionally affect aircraft communications, navigation, flight control and electronic equipment.”

However, Leitch reiterates that mobile devices pose no marked risk to plane safety.

“There is really no measurable threat at this stage. No aircraft has crashed and no pilot has suddenly had to fight for the control of the aircraft,” said Leitch.

Keep an eye on Agora Tec’s blog to find out exactly when the CAA’s statement will be enforced – and when live broadcasts from the air will presumably take the place of that annoying friend’s status updates from OR Tambo International.

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