Safety Check: Flight mode

Have you ever wondered about the reason behind switching your phone to flight mode during an airplane journey? Have you ever questioned the potential impact your phone might have on flight operations? In this article we will discuss the topic of mobile phones on board. Stay with us!

phones on airplanes
©Imansyah Muhamad Putera

Flying with your Phone

According to the Civil Aviation Authority, research has shown that phones can interfere with aircraft equipment such as the pilot’s headset equipment and overall flight operations and this is the reason behind flight attendants’ important duty to inform the passengers when and where mobile phone can be used, provided the device is in flight-mode. But is flight mode really a necessity?

Why is Flight Mode a Requirement ?

Probably on one of your trips, it has already crossed your mind. Why is airplane/flight mode is mandatory onboard? The primary reason behind the airplane mode requirement on flights is safety. 

In 2013, after consulting with pilots, passengers, aviation manufacturers, and mobile technology representatives; the Federal Aviation Administration made it official that passengers could keep their phones on during flights as long as they switched to airplane mode. The rule was implemented after the in-depth investigation of FAA Modernization and Reform Act’s Section 410 In the year of 2012, the research was constructed to understand the policies and rules of foreign governments and airlines and the usage of phones by passengers. Aiming to improve safety, well being of flight attendant and the overall flight experience for passengers.

According to this extensive examination with aviation authorities outside the US, who authorise cellular onboard telephone stations, there is no evidence of phones affecting flight safety on equipped aircraft. However, the communicated FAA recognised the need for cooperation within the industry and the creation of procedures to prove safe cell phone use during flights, such as a requirement of the flight safety mode.

You might be wondering how flight mode impacts the functioning of the aircraft. Firstly, the flight mode rule enforces the safety of airplane communication and navigation systems. In airplane mode, electronic devices like phones stop emitting radio signals, whereas when a phone is in its active mode it transmits them consistently. These radio transmitters are designed to connect to wireless networks in cellular towers, sending these signals outward whilst also receiving them inbound.

Airlines raise strong concerns about the potential airplane safety risk because of the potential interference from radio signals and “waves” emitted by phones and other electronical devices that can interfere with specific airplanes systems like sensors, navigation equipment and collision prevention mechanisms.

flight modeairplane mode
Phone on airplane mode © Sten Ritterfeld

Will we ever be able to use phones without flight mode?

Last year, the European Commission informed all travelers about the new rules related to flights in the European Union – and it has been confirmed that soon will be allowed the use of phones without the need to be in flight mode, meaning passengers will be able to make calls and send texts. Publicly, this brought concern for the passengers who disagreed with the rule, worried about the possible disrespect of others willing to use their phones during flight, causing disruption. There are also concerns about the 5G technology for those who are happier to fly without wave distraction.

Thierry Breton, the Commissioner for the Internal Market, makes a point of 5G opening possibilities to creative services for individuals and growth opportunities for European businesses, and according to the Commission, airlines will provide 5G service to passengers in a specialised network tool named pico-cell, which will bring facilities to in-flight services such as being able to text messaging, receiving calls, and data transmission.

The connection is established through a satellite link directly from the ground-based network to the aircraft. The European Commission also emphasises that in 2008, airlines were permitted to use specific frequencies for mobile services on planes. However, a recent update to the Commission’s decision on in-flight mobile communications now enables the “extensive use of 5G services.” Will the European Commission’s decision lead to accessibility and connectivity in future aviation plans?

What’s your take on the upcoming rules for phone usage on planes? Any predictions? We would love to hear from you in the comments !

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Aleksandra Wasilewska
Aleksandra Wasilewska
Aleksandra known as Lexi is an Aviation Reporter Intern with a background in Aviation , previous work in and degree in Media and Communications. Her passion for travelling, storytelling, and exploring new cultures drives her enthusiasm for creating media content. Born in Poland, she spent her childhood in Portugal, and she currently lives in the vibrant city of London.
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