The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Menace of the mid-air mobile
- Frequent fliers habitual offenders

Flight SQ-416 from Singapore to Calcutta was mid-air last Saturday evening when a passenger was alerted by the sound of a mobile phone being switched on behind her.

'A passenger was showing off his cell to a friend and when asked to switch it off, he refused' Three attendants had to step in and almost force him to switch off,' she told Metro.

Fifteen minutes before the wheels touched the Calcutta airport runway, at least five cellphones came alive. 'The crew had a trying time convincing passengers to switch off' They later admitted this was a common hazard on this sector,' added the passenger.

Mobile mania is not limited to one flight or one sector. Switching on cellphones, especially while landing, is now an occupational hazard for airline operators in Southeast Asia.

'Mobile phones are definite hazards. Our cabin crew is trained to request the passengers not to keep their sets on once they are inside the aircraft. But sometimes, even the crew in-charge has to intervene when a passenger refuses to cooperate,' said Bharat Mahadevan, manager (east) of Singapore Airlines.

An official of another airline added: 'With no international laws on this, we can only request passengers to comply, first politely and then sternly.'

The fact that most habitual offenders are also frequent fliers ' many of them ferrying goods into Calcutta from Bangkok every other day ' puts the airlines in a bind.

Thai Airways regularly faces the problem of phones being switched on long before landing. 'Passengers are supposed to switch off their phones once the door is closed and only switch it on once the door opens after landing. But many keep it on when the plane is taxiing for take-off or in the process of landing,' admitted an official.

But how real is the threat of a cell switched on once the doors are shut'

According to officials of the Air Traffic Control tower at Calcutta airport, active mobile phones can put the aircraft 'in real danger'.

'The Instrumental Landing System (ILS) emits electromagnetic waves in a particular direction in order to guide the aircraft to the exact location of the runway during landing,' said an official.

'The waves emitted by the ILS on the ground are received by the aircraft's ILS. The cellphone, even in silent mode, emits electro-magnetic waves that could interfere with the waves of the ILS, making it difficult for the pilot to get the exact landing information,' he added.

Cellphones, even when not in use, transmit and receive signals in order to be in touch with the base tower, explains a cell operator. 'This cellphone transmission can interfere with the signals arriving from the communication tower and navigational aids and trigger a serious crisis,' warned an official at Calcutta airport.

Try telling this to the trigger-happy cell junkie sitting beside you the next time the flight is about to land.

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