The first sentences in a recent Bloomberg News article on cellphones on planes is chilling. "The regional airliner was climbing past 9,000 feet when its compasses went haywire, leading pilots several miles off course until a flight attendant persuaded a passenger in row 9 to switch off an Apple Iphone," the author states. Apparently, as soon as the phone was shut off, the navigation system started to work again.
The incident is just one of many, according to Bloomberg, that both government and airline reporting systems have been logging for years. Passenger-held electronic devices are suspected of interfering with radio communications, navigational systems and other vital electronic functions aboard dozens of planes in the last decade.
Interestingly, the airline industry is split on whether or not to shut off the phones. Delta, which has been lobbying to do so, nevertheless reported 27 separate incidents, between 2010 and 2012, in which passenger electronics were suspected of causing malfunctions in flight. United/Continental is against changes to the current rules.
Rapidly changing technology, not just for phones but to air traffic systems, is part of the equation. Thanks to GPS, airplanes are able to fly more efficient routes, but that also means they're flying closer together than they used to. Which in turn means even a slight malfunctions in navigation could be disastrous.
The FAA has formed a special committee to look at the current evidence about cellphone interference alongside requests for rule changes. It is expected to make a recommendation in July. After that point, the issue may open to public comment. I know that I, for one, am going to raise my voice against the use of cellphones on planes.