Parliamentary Question: DoT: Cellular phones usage on an aircraft


Mr M S F de Freitas (DA) asked the Minister of Transport:
(1) Whether any tests, surveys, research or any other activities have been undertaken with regard to the use of cellular phones whilst an aircraft is in flight; if not, why not; if so, (a) what type of test or activity was conducted, (b) when did it take place and (c) what were the most important findings and outcomes;

(2) whether he intends permitting the use of cellular phones on board whilst an aircraft is in flight; if not, why not; if so, (a) what are the timeframes in this regard and (b)(i) which persons/entities will be involved and (ii) what are the relevant details with regard to the processes, procedures and mechanisms that will be involved?


The Minister of Transport:

When the issue (use of cellular phones on aircraft) was originally raised in the 1980s, there was mutual agreement between the mobile phone operators and the aviation industry to ban the use of mobile phones on board all aircraft. This is reflected in the minutes of the meeting to discuss or clarify the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) European Air Navigation Planning Group Conclusion 48/23 on the use of mobile phones on board of aircraft.

The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) was one of the aviation bodies that banned the use of mobile phones on board aircrafts, through Part 91.01.9 of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations (SACARs), 1997, as amended, detailed in Aeronautical Information Circular (AIC) 64.12 – which prohibits operating Portable Electronic Devices (PEDs), which may adversely affect the performance of the systems and equipment on board the aircraft during flight.
(1)(a), (b) and (c)

No tests, surveys, research or any other activities have been undertaken in this regard.

This is a result of the following:

The SACARs do not address cellular phones, but rather speak of PEDs. A PED in this context is an all encompassing term that includes, but is not limited to, laptop computers, heart pacemakers, hand-held calculators, hearing aids and electronic games, audio tape players and recorders, CD/DVD/MP3 players, etc.

Some PED use is permissible on board aircraft, after a determination is made by the Pilot in Command, while some are restricted for use in critical flight phases.

To arrive at an amicable resolution to the issue, which is the permissibility of use of cellular phones, wireless networks on board aircraft, three cases need to be addressed. The first of these cases is the safety case, the second is the legal issue, and the third case is the SACAR evolution.

A determination has to be made of hazards this exercise may present. A hazard is defined as any condition that compromises the overall safety of the airplane or a condition that significantly reduces the ability of the flight crew to cope with adverse operating conditions. One way of allaying fears of the worst happening would be to conduct a systematic and comprehensive examination of pertinent functions (loss and malfunctions) involved to identify and classify failure conditions according to their effects on the aircraft crew and occupants by requesting a safety case, e.g. a Functional Hazard Assessment (FHA).

ICAO Annex 8 deals with the Contracting State’s responsibility of ensuring the airworthiness of aeronautical products. The guidance document, ICAO Doc. 9760, further details the role and responsibility of the State of Registry, i.e. the SACAA. SACAR Part 47.00.5 states that any Class I product which is to be placed on the South African Civil Aircraft Register for the first time shall be accompanied by the Type Acceptance Certificate. SACAR Part 21.08.3 requires aircraft to be issued with a Certificate of Airworthiness, to have been issued with a Type Acceptance Certificate (or Type Certificate) by the SACAA, and that the aircraft is in conformance with this Type Design.

The SACAA conducts Type Acceptances in order to obtain sufficient data on the product to enable effective safety oversight of the product whilst on the South African Civil Aircraft Register, e.g. approval of modifications, continued airworthiness, etc. The type of acceptance exercise conducted by the Certification Engineering department of SACAA is the best platform to determine whether PEDs present no interference to the aircraft’s navigation, communication or other electronic system.

Regulatory evolution is required to reflect advances in technology. Changing regulations is a herculean task that warrants time and resources, with emphasis on the latter.
(2)The responses under question (1) above adequately address this concern. The SACAA is mandated to ensure that the regulations are upheld and that it does not constrain the industry. This implies that PED use (i.e. cellular phones) on board aircraft, through certification engineering tasks only, shall be possible.
(a)Timeframes are subject to adequate financial backing and resource allocation.
(b)(i) The SACAA and operators are currently involved, to such an extent that SACAA has granted exemptions from SACAR Part 91.01.9 to some operators to conduct trials on the use of PEDs, i.e. the use of cellular phones in flight-mode.
(ii) The process shall be within the ambits of the South African Civil Aviation Regulations, 1997, as amended. The procedure (subject to SACAA internal vetting) might be, as stated in (b) (i), that operators have been granted exemptions for trials, and in doing so, collect data with specific information for comparison (which may include observations, incidents and or hazards). Although the monitoring of various types of cellular phones, that are being used in flight-mode has already been done by IEEE/ANS C63.4 and IEC CISPR 22, creating a new “local” body of knowledge is commended:
“If all operators collect this type of data with specific information, a large enough database could be generated to identify specific devices causing interference. The operator may want to obtain the services of a person or facility capable of determining non-interference to the aircraft’s navigation, communication, or other electronic system. Personnel, specifically designated by the air carrier or commercial operator for this purpose, may make this determination using the process described in RTCA/DO-294. For other aircraft, the language of the rule expressly permits the determination to be made by the Pilot in Command or operators of the aircraft. Thus, in the case of rental aircraft, the renter-pilot, lessee, or owner-operator could make the determination.” ~ AC91.21-1B.

The desired way would be that the Certification Engineering Department of the SACAA gets involved as early as possible, preferably during the type acceptance exercises. Alternatively, the manufacturer and SACAA can undertake to ensure that all communication and navigation wiring and line replacement units in the operator’s fleet, meet Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) 25.1309(a) and RTCA-DO160E (Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics) requirements, respectively, and therefore ensuring that aircrafts meet RTCA-DO294B requirements.

However, the funding and human resources at SACAA’s disposal shall dictate the pace of change.