Since December 2004 the FCC has been investigating a change in the rules that would allow cell phone usage on airplanes. Their concern is the impact the change would have on the terrestrial cell phone network. In the Memorandum Opinion and Order the FCC says:
It is apparent that it is premature to decide the issues raised in the Notice. The comments filed in this proceeding provide insufficient technical information that would allow the Commission to assess whether the airborne use of cellular phones may occur without causing harmful interference to terrestrial networks.
Further, because it appears that airlines, manufacturers, and wireless providers are still researching the use of cell phones and other PEDs onboard aircraft, we do not believe that seeking further comment at this juncture will provide us with the necessary technical information in the near term. Accordingly, we conclude that this proceeding should be terminated. We may, however, reconsider this issue in the future if appropriate technical data is available for our review.
Keep in mind that the FCC is not responsible for the issue of potential interference to onboard instruments and equipment, the FAA and the airlines are responsible for deciding those issues. The FCC’s responsibility is to make sure that the licensed cell phone networks are not adversely impacted by cell phone signals originating from airplanes. This seems like the wise course of action, in my opinion cell phone signals have a low reliability already and further lowering of reliability would be very bad.
Tip of the hat to Conformity for pointing me to this notice. FYI -the announcement of the order is here.