No cell phones on planes
Washington — The myths and legends of wireless communications and technology cause plant managers and process engineers some consternation. On the trade show floor, wireless always, always looks and sounds ideal. It's neat, clean, not at all cumbersome, and for the most part foolproof.
It's the "for the most part foolproof" that bothers a lot of us. A familiar wireless device is the cell phone. Cell phones black out, companies deliver varying signal quality, and there are obstructions, magnetic and solar storms, trees, and underpasses. For production supervisors and floor managers, the possible consequences of a missed signal just aren't worth it.
The debate over wireless reached a new intensity level in September, when news that passengers aboard the hijacked airliners that crashed in Pennsylvania and Washington called loved ones from the air.
Federal law prohibits the use of wireless communications devices once a commercial airplane leaves its gate. Those rules evolved from the concern that wireless transmissions would disrupt communications in the air and on ground-based networks.
Cell phones certainly work on airplanes in flight, but do they interfere with other communications signals?
According to industry experts talking to The New York Times, "There is little evidence, if indeed any, to suggest that the use of cell phones interferes with an aircraft's avionics or communications systems."
Both the FAA and the FCC ban the use of cell phones aboard commercial flights. But they do so for different reasons.
Safety is the FAA's main concern. There is too much anecdotal evidence that suggests wireless devices interfere with aircraft instruments, officials said.
The FAA used the findings of the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics to justify the ban.
The FCC ban has nothing to do with airplane safety.
The FCC said signals emitted by phones in the air could occupy multiple cell towers on the ground and cause interference with calls on the ground.
Until substance overrides spectacle, wireless in critical plant applications will remain on hold.
InTech senior technical editor Nicholas Sheble edits Fieldbus News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.