Still no cellphone use on SAA

By Leon Engelbrecht, ITWeb senior writer
Johannesburg, 21 Jun 2007

Much needs to happen before passengers can use cellphones on airplanes, says South African Airways (SAA).

SAA was responding to this week's announcement by aircraft company Airbus that it had developed an onboard cellphone node that would allow passengers to safely make calls on their mobile devices while in flight. The system has been certified as safe by the European aviation authority.

"We foresee that commercial and other considerations will dictate whether airlines eventually allow the on-board usage of cellphones on aircraft," says SAA head of corporate affairs Robyn Chalmers.

"The subject will be under close scrutiny by not only our own Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but other international aviation authorities, as well as other stakeholder groups including pilots, before this could be implemented.

"Any system first has to be tested to see what it can and can't do, what the restraints are, as well as functionalities. Costs will also be a consideration," Chalmers says.

CAA spokesperson Phindiwe Gwebu says part 91.01.9 (1) of the civil aviation regulations determines that no person shall be permitted to operate, on board the aircraft during flight time, any portable electronic device which may adversely affect the performance of the systems and equipment of the aircraft.

However, there are certain exceptions, Gwebu says. "In particular, a heart pacemaker, hearing aid, portable voice recorder, electric shaver or any portable device, which the pilot-in-command has determined will not interfere with the systems and equipment of the aircraft, may be used.

"In the light of the above, if there are technical or electronic developments that could easily enable persons to use electronic devices like cellphones without interfering with the safe operation of a particular aircraft, then such devices could be used.

"Our regulations, relating to the prohibition of use of electronic devices in this regard, is crafted in such a way that it could easily accommodate such developments," the CAA spokesperson adds.

"Consequently, there will be no necessity to amend or even draft a new regulation to cater for the latest discovery."

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