South African Airways (SAA) has applied to the Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) to undo its ban on using cellphones on aircraft in flight, and will soon begin a testing phase to see which cellphones can be used in the air.
SACAA spokesman Kabelo Ledwaba said that SAA had submitted its programme detailing “systematic monitoring of the various cellphone models which can be used in flight mode,” IOL reports.
Ledwaba said that it had received SAA’s programme at the beginning of this month and that as soon as it had completed its review, it would allow SAA to begin testing cellphones. This would be done under SACAA supervision.
Civil Aviation Authority regulations prohibit the use of cellphones on aircraft in flight due to concerns that the signals might interfere with aircraft’s avionics, particularly its navigation systems, and disrupt cellphone towers on the ground. “Regardless, the SACAA acknowledges that technology advances rapidly,” Ledwaba said. “It came as no surprise when the SACAA was approached by the SAA for an exemption.”
“SAA is working with the Civil Aviation Authority to test the use of cellphones in flight mode (this does not mean making calls while flying) on board our aircraft during the cruise phase of the journey,” SAA confirmed in a statement.
“At this stage, SAA is the only airline in SA to work with the SACAA to carry out these tests, which are currently underway,” the airline added.
Comair, which operates British Airways and kulula.com flights, said that some years ago it had tried to get the SACAA to lift the ban on cellphones in flight.
Comair’s flight operations director Captain Martin Louw said there were no technical or safety reasons for cellphones to be kept off or in flight mode during flight, IOL reports.
“We have on numerous occasions approached the SACAA to change their regulation to world-wide best-practice,” he said. “We have even given them the European regulation as an example.”
If SAA’s plan is successful, Comair will apply for the same exemption. SAA only wants other airlines to apply for the same waiver once it has finished conducting its testing.
Meanwhile, more and more international airlines are offering in-flight cellphone services, although at present most airlines do not, ABC News reports. It has never been rigorously proven that cellphone signals do in fact cause system failures on aircraft whether in flight or on the ground.
Due to advances in technology and rigorous testing, airlines like Emirates and Malaysian Airlines are offering in-flight cellphone services and numerous others, such as Cathay Pacific, are following suite.