Inflight Cell Phone Use

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ultraturtle
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Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by ultraturtle » Sat Sep 28, 2019 11:02 am

My understanding is that cell phone use inflight, to include cellular data, is prohibited by FCC regulation https://www.govinfo.gov/app/details/CFR ... -sec22-925 which reads:
§22.925 Prohibition on airborne operation of cellular telephones.
Cellular telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are air- borne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the ground, all cel- lular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned off. The following no- tice must be posted on or near each cel- lular telephone installed in any air- craft:
‘‘The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of serv- ice and/or a fine. The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the ground is subject to FAA regulations.”
I understand that modifications have taken place since it’s passage that allow for cell phone operation in Airplane Mode (i.e. cellular voice and data disabled) during certain flight regimes, but am unaware of any carve-out for general aviation or any other airborne use of cellular voice or data. If things have changed, could someone point me to a source?
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by smoss » Sat Sep 28, 2019 3:40 pm

Part 22 is for Public Mobile Services:
§22.1 Basis and purpose.
This section contains a concise general statement of the basis and purpose of the rules in this part, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(c).

(a) Basis. These rules are issued pursuant to the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, 47 U.S.C. 151 et. seq.

(b) Purpose. The purpose of these rules is to establish the requirements and conditions under which radio stations may be licensed and used in the Public Mobile Services.
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by Colin » Sat Sep 28, 2019 5:09 pm

My understanding from my Bell Labs friend is that the original method of cell-tower selection would flood the wrong frequencies with traffic if you phone moved too quickly through their space and was at an elevation which allowed engagement with more towers than a ground-hugging phone would. (There's diagram halfway down this page which describes the original design.

I also understand that this clever hardware method has been replaced by the digital counterpart which you would imagine would negotiate with less bandwidth. (Similar information is found in this article.)
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by waynemcc999 » Sat Sep 28, 2019 5:59 pm

Legalities aside... I "know pilots" who text inflight most every flight, with cell service 50%+ of the time at 10,000' MSL. They even use the cellphone to get ATIS when the freq is blocked by terrain. Personally I always have my cellphone available for lostcoms (infinitely better than light guns!).
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by Rich » Sat Sep 28, 2019 6:42 pm

A recently published directive regarding obtaining clearances from ATC for departures from uncontrolled fields suggests having the ability to use your cell with the engine running:

They want you to obtain your IFR clearance by phone. In fact, you'll now find clearance delivery listed in the chart supplement as a phone number instead of a radio frequency at these airports. I find it most practical to do this after runup and ready for take off. I use Bluetooth through my headset to do this and switch the headset to the iPad after getting clearance. Having to switch is a little klunky but it does the job. I actually find using a phone call a better quality communication than listening on the ATC frequency with all the crappy radios and squeals from stepped-on transmissions during this process.
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by ultraturtle » Sun Sep 29, 2019 1:04 pm

Rich wrote:
Sat Sep 28, 2019 6:42 pm
A recently published directive regarding obtaining clearances from ATC for departures from uncontrolled fields suggests having the ability to use your cell with the engine running...
Correct. This is why the law states that while on the ground, FAA rules govern.
Colin wrote:
Sat Sep 28, 2019 5:09 pm
My understanding from my Bell Labs friend is that the original method of cell-tower selection would flood the wrong frequencies with traffic if you phone moved too quickly through their space and was at an elevation which allowed engagement with more towers than a ground-hugging phone would. (There's diagram halfway down this page which describes the original design.

I also understand that this clever hardware method has been replaced by the digital counterpart which you would imagine would negotiate with less bandwidth. (Similar information is found in this article.)
All correct. Since the cell tower network is engineered and tweaked to hand off calls from devices on the surface of the earth efficiently, airborne use gums things up, and is therefore prohibited by law. FCC governs because it is a communications issue, not so much one of flight safety.

I get that folks illegally use cellular voice and data while airborne have have been doing so for years. Seeing so many folks publicly admitting to doing so makes me wonder whether or not the practice remains in violation of the law. If things have changed, I’d like to see the source so I can start using it too. For now, intentionally violating FCC regulations would give grounds for suspension of my radio-telephone operator license and loss of my livelihood.
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by dselder1962 » Mon Sep 30, 2019 2:33 am

I have been warned by the flight avionics technician not to use my cellphone as it can interfere especially with AHRS as it searches for a tower.
He was very adamant about that.
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by CFIDave » Tue Oct 01, 2019 10:12 pm

Most GA pilots I know leave their cellphones on during flight, with many sending/receiving text messages during cruise flight. But cellphones can also provide useful backup communications with ATC. I have a pilot friend who had his newly-installed glass panel (including transponder) in a King Air go completely dark just as he was about to enter the DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) to land at a Virginia airport. So he used his phone to call the local TRACON and got a clearance to enter the SFRA and land without an operative transponder.

And many airline passengers routinely leave their phones on in flight without putting them in "airplane mode." Years ago when I was a million mile airline flyer I used to briefly turn on my phone just to see how many wireless hotspots I could detect among the passengers of my flight. Usually I detected 5-10 WiFi mobile hotspots from passenger phones aboard. Not only did aircraft not fall out of the sky, but (as a former network and telecom analyst) I never heard of any mobile operators complain about in-flight cellular phone use.

The digital cellular networks of today are technologically quite different from the original analog cellular networks implemented when the FCC regulation was first instituted.

This is just another case where outmoded regulations have fallen behind technology.
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by ultraturtle » Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:20 am

I have no problem with pilots exercising their emergency authority to use whatever means necessary to safely land their aircraft, to include violating FCC regulations if no other means exist. Assuming this intrepid King Air aviator was in hard IMC and bound by lost comm rules to continue on, fine. All he needed to do was to document his use of emergency authority should the Feds come looking. Same for the poor FAA controller who he put on the spot by accepting that cell call and issuing the clearance, since the controller obviously knew it was from an airborne caller. The controller also holds an FCC license that can be revoked, costing him or her their job.

Hopefully, the situation was not in VMC. The imperative to remain VMC and land would have meant an inconvenient divert, but would have saved the pilot’s FCC permit, and the FAA controller’s job should the incident have come under scrutiny.

Airborne cell phone use is not trivial to flight safety. Just one of many current articles easily available: https://www.cultofmac.com/639984/in-fli ... eing-2019/
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Re: Inflight Cell Phone Use

Post by CFIDave » Wed Oct 02, 2019 3:20 pm

ultraturtle wrote:
Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:20 am
I have no problem with pilots exercising their emergency authority to use whatever means necessary to safely land their aircraft, to include violating FCC regulations if no other means exist. Assuming this intrepid King Air aviator was in hard IMC and bound by lost comm rules to continue on, fine. All he needed to do was to document his use of emergency authority should the Feds come looking. Same for the poor FAA controller who he put on the spot by accepting that cell call and issuing the clearance, since the controller obviously knew it was from an airborne caller. The controller also holds an FCC license that can be revoked, costing him or her their job.

Hopefully, the situation was not in VMC. The imperative to remain VMC and land would have meant an inconvenient divert, but would have saved the pilot’s FCC permit, and the FAA controller’s job should the incident have come under scrutiny.

Airborne cell phone use is not trivial to flight safety. Just one of many current articles easily available: https://www.cultofmac.com/639984/in-fli ... eing-2019/
The "intrepid King Air aviator" was fortunately in VMC and familiar with the local geography when he had a complete panel failure; otherwise he would have had an emergency trying to land somewhere in IMC with only his iPad for navigation. While flying in VMC, ATC was able to give him a clearance via an airborne phone call into the DC SFRA for landing at his home airport.

I know of another pilot friend with a DA40 that was based at College Park, MD (KCPS, one of the "DC 3" airports within the innermost secure Flight Restricted Zone of Washington, DC) who used his cellphone in the air to call ATC to get his clearance to land at KCPS, with clearances into both the DC SFRA and FRZ and issuance of a transponder squawk code. He had to give his private security code over the phone to gain access to the FRZ, a standard procedure for pilots who have undergone the special security vetting necessary to land at one of the DC 3 airports.

A few days later he got charged with a pilot deviation by both the FAA and Homeland Security, lost use of his FRZ security code, and was forced to relocate his DA40 to another airport located outside the DC FRZ. It turns out that outmoded regulations (that were written years ago when cellular communications were all analog, unencrypted, and could easily be intercepted via a scanner) still require that security codes for clearance into the FRZ can only be requested with a phone call initiated from the ground. Because he called and gave out his FRZ code from an airborne aircraft, he got busted.

During all of his interactions with the FAA, hiring a lawyer to defend himself, etc. NOBODY ever brought up that it was illegal to make a cellphone call while in the air per FCC regulations. He got in trouble only because he wasn't on the ground when he used his code to request a FRZ clearance.

(We who fly in the Washington, DC area have to put up with a lot of post-9/11/2001 "security theater," including the "forces of darkness" in a command center whose entire job is monitoring the DC-area airspace to bust pilots who don't squawk the right transponder code (1200 is forbidden), get the right clearances, or clip the edge of the SFRA. The feds have a "zero tolerance" policy for pilot errors in the airspace.)
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