Without Safeguards, Cell Phones Pose Security Risks on Airplanes


By: Sharon Aron Baron

This week the Federal Communications Commission will consider a proposal to ease restrictions on cellular phone use during flights. This comes after The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its ban of electronic devices such as iPads and Kindles below 10,000 feet, saying they don’t interfere with cockpit instruments.

However, one mobile communications expert say that allowing cell phone use on airplanes may expose passengers to unnecessary security risks.

Howard Melamed, President and CEO of CellAntenna Corp of Coral Springs, says cell phones don’t interfere with flight communications equipment, but should be restricted because they can be used remotely by terrorists.

“Erasing the prohibition of cell phone use on airplanes without imposing limitations is risky and unnecessary,” said Melamed. “Mobile phones are the number one method used to detonate an IED, and can be programmed to trigger an explosion without passengers knowledge.”

If mobile phone use is allowed, Melamed recommends some restrictions:

  • Allow outgoing calls and SMS text messages, but prevent incoming communications. This can be accomplished by phone service providers or device manufacturers.
  • Install a failsafe mechanism to disable devices if the risk of attack is detected.
  • Prohibit cell phone use in aircraft lavatories to prevent their use as “flying phone booths.”

Melamed said Wi-Fi is a safer alternative for communication, and should be made available on all aircraft. A number of online services offer free SMS text and voice capabilities.

Because airplanes are so noisy, Melamed said most passengers will likely prefer messaging. In-flight noise levels can reach 80dB or 90 dB — comparable to a garbage disposal, a motorcycle 25 feet away or the average factory.

“When I recently tested a cellular call on an international flight that allowed mobile phones, I couldn’t hear the other party and he couldn’t hear me,” said Melamed.”Voice calls may prove impractical unless they can find a way to dramatically reduce aircraft noise.”



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