Video: Warning on airplane cell phone use

By Robert Bazell Chief science and health correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/1/2006 7:45:44 PM ET 2006-03-02T00:45:44

There is a reason for flight attendants’ instructions about turning off your cell phones before takeoff. 

According to scientists and government officials, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests battery-operated devices, including cell phones, computers and handheld games — especially those with wireless signals — might disrupt critical aircraft navigation systems.

“There are a variety of examples of serious interference,” says Dr. Granger Morgan of Carnegie Mellon University. “There aren’t any accidents that you can nail down, but as more and more people use wireless more on more airplanes, I think it’s just a matter of time before we start having serious problems.”

Morgan and his team of researchers showed that already a lot of people are cheating. They put radio frequency measuring devices on 37 commercial flights. “We found people making cell phone calls during takeoff and on final approach,” he said.

It could be making a critical difference: “We also found quite a lot of interference in the GPS band — that’s the global positioning satellite band — and that’s really troubling because increasingly airlines are using this for precision approach.”

Airlines allow some electrical devices to be used above 10,000 feet, when there is more room for error if the aircraft instruments have a problem.

But at the critical moments of landing and takeoff, science seems to suggest that people should definitely not be on phones.

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