One of the great unresolved debates of modern life is whether or not cell phones interfere with airplane controls.
There's evidence that yes, cell phones and other electronic devices can impact navigation and other airplane functions. Heck, Mythbusters even tested the question.
But a new technology, offered by a company called OnAir, purports to solve the safety problem, allowing passengers to use their cell phones at high altitudes.
The device was unveiled last week at the Paris Air Show. As an article in New Scientist explains, the fear with in-flight calls is that cell phones might emit their maximum limit of electromagnetic radiation in an effort to reach towers on the ground. The OnAir system stops this concern by responding to the cell phone's signal onboard, so the phone doesn't have to increase its signal beyond the aircraft.
The OnAir device then takes that signal and transmits it at a safe, controlled frequency to a satellite, which then sends the signal to the earth, according to the article.
It's expected to debut this September on an AirFrance plane, but will quickly roll out to other European carriers. Fortunately, it may be 2009 before the device is used on planes from the U.S. or Japan, due to more complicated legal issues.
That is, IF it's rolled out at all. The FCC has considered lifting the ban on in-flight calls before, but many passengers and airline workers adamantly objected, according to this piece from the Washington Post. Apparently, people really hate the idea of being stuck on a plane while louts loudly share the sordid details of their personal or professional lives.
The OnAir device might temper some of these complaints, however, since airlines would have more control over when calls can be made with the device. For instance, it can be turned off to stop calls during overnight flights or switched to only allow text messaging.
Personally, I'd just as soon the whole concept would get Lost, along with Sawyer, Jack and The Others. I certainly don't want to listen to anyone chatter on their phone during any flight, no matter how short.
But then again, I long for the days when I didn't have to hear all the gory details of someone's life while trying to pick out my produce. So, if OnAir ever offers a product that gives me control over whether others can make cell phone calls within my hearing range -- well, I'll be the first one in line to buy.