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3/14/2006
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Suppliers Of In-Flight Cell Phones Stress Safety

Two vendors of phones used on airplanes noted that a recent Carnegie Mellon study, which questioned the safety of cell phones on flights, covered a time period some three years ago. Since then, additional steps have been taken to ensure that passengers can't interfere with aircraft navigation systems, the vendors said.

A recent study by Carnegie Mellon University on the potential dangers of cell phone use on commercial aircraft flights has prompted two suppliers of communications services to aircraft passengers to state that their services are safe.

Both parties, Connexion by Boeing and OnAir, noted that the Carnegie Mellon study, which examined the use of cell phones, covered a time period some three years ago; since then additional steps have been taken to ensure that passengers can't interfere with aircraft navigation systems.

"Certainly there's not been any damage or crashes caused by magnetic interference by cell phones or other (consumer) devices," said Dave Carson, a Connexion spokesman, in an interview. "There's been some allegations, but no evidence."

The Boeing business unit has been providing broadband services on international flights since it inaugurated the Connexion service with Lufthansa in May 2004. Since then the service has been offered on long flights by several international airlines including El Al, Japan Airlines, Korean Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.

OnAir is beginning to introduce its system as part of a certification process under the auspices of Airbus. "OnAir's technology will ensure that there will be no interference with the aircraft systems, nor with ground telecommunications networks," said Charlie Pryor, OnAir spokesman, in an e-mail. "Airlines will be able to control the use of the service -- they can turn it off completely, or turn off the voice element, leaving just data on… OnAir's research shows that the majority of passengers would want to have the option of using the service, as much for data as for voice, if not more."

Both Connexion and OnAir said they do not challenge the Carnegie Mellon study, which, they said, was carried out by qualified researchers who did serious work. In fact, they agreed with the study that take-off and landing are the critical times during which cell phone usage should remain banned to preserve the integrity of aircraft navigation GPS systems.

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