Cellphone calls likely to remain grounded

Times Staff Writer

The nation’s top phone regulator has made the call: No cellphone conversations during flights.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Thursday that he opposed lifting a ban on the phone conversations because of evidence that they could interfere with calls on the ground.

The FCC had been considering allowing in-flight calls since 2004 but Martin’s opposition, in effect, kills the idea. As chairman, he controls the agenda and decides what is voted on.


A cellphone industry trade group has said that cellphone towers could get crossed up trying to process signals sent from passengers.

“You’re way up high, and you’re going really fast,” said Joseph E. Farren, spokesman for CTIA-The Wireless Assn. “Placing a call in that environment is much different than walking down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.”

Passengers yakking on the phone in the cramped quarters of airplanes also would annoy fellow travelers. A 2005 poll by USA Today, which first reported Martin’s opposition to lifting the ban, found that 68% of people wanted to keep it in place.

Even if the FCC had lifted its ban on cellphones in the sky, the Federal Aviation Administration could have nixed the idea. The FAA has been studying whether calls would interfere with navigation systems but has drawn no conclusions, FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette said.

The FAA also is considering proposals for wireless Internet access from airplanes.

The only other option for in-flight calling disappeared last year when Verizon Airfone pulled the plug on its service that let customers swipe credit cards through the handsets that pop out of airline seats.

Now if regulators could just work on the screaming babies.