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Q-talk 120 -Can you use your Cell Phone in the Cockpit?

Someone on the Q-List asked why the FAA said they had no regulations for restricting cell phone use in a private airplane but that this was regulated by the FCC. When the FCC was contacted, the answer they gave was a resounding "No!" They didn't give much explanation however. So, Barry Stearns added his experience to the topic.

As the Avionics Manager for a FBO in Nebraska I can help answer this. The FCC regulates this because of the potential for "tower hopping". That is sending/receiving from multiple towers that may cause lockups in the network or even worse, to the cell phone companies, mis-registered calls...or what we would call "free ones". As far as the cockpit area goes, I have found that a cell phone can, will, and has, wiped the GPS receivers out of several name brand panel mount units. We found out the pilot was using his cell phone in each of these cases and the manufacturer lead us in that direction. They also didn't warranty the repair of the unit in question either. Besides this issue, I have seen VOR's pull off 10 degrees with a cell phone in its active state.

I also had the chance to speak to a pilot who admitted he was once talking on his cell phone and not watching out his windshield and nearly flew up the butt of a Cessna 182 with his Commanche. This is a fairly major concern since in a car you only wreck (in most cases) in the x and y direction, but in an aircraft you have that bad z direction that makes you go SPLAT. He said he will never use his phone in the air again.

Also, headsets with cell phone adapters have caused excessive loading of certain makes of audio/intercom panels which have lead to premature failure of the audio amp circuits inside. This has to do with impedance and loading that manufacturers did not plan for. This also leads to the company NOT paying for your repair. My 2 1/2 cents worth.

Barry Stearns

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