GOP pushes for ban on in-flight phone calls

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Cell phone calls during flights would be banned under an aviation funding bill that is scheduled to be considered by lawmakers in the House this week. 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) caused a stir in 2013 when it considered lifting a current ban on in-flight cell phone calls after the Federal Aviation Administration moved to allow more electronic devices to be during flights. 

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The FCC reasoned that it is now less of a concern that in-flight calls would interfere with airplane navigation equipment than it was when most of the electronic bans were put in place. 

The potential end of the call ban has drawn widespread opposition, with critics fearful it would lead to loud telephone conversations in the crowded confines of airline cabins.

The Federal Aviation Administration measure unveiled by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week would enshrine the ban on in-flight calls in federal law, regardless of the diminishing safety concerns. 

The panel said the measure, known as the Air Innovation Reform and Reauthorization (AIRR) Act, "prohibits the use of cell phones and mobile devices for voice communication during commercial flights." 

For years, the use of many electronic devices on flights has been banned for fear they could interfere with navigation systems. But the FAA loosened rules for most of the devices in 2013 and said passengers would be allowed to send texts and emails from their phones during flights.

The decision prompted the FCC to look into whether the ban on in-flight phone calls was still needed for safety reasons.

The FCC said at the time it was considering whether to lift the ban purely on safety issues — specifically whether cellphones interfere with airplane systems.

The agency suggested it is not interested in policing passenger behavior and has said it would be up to individual airlines — or lawmakers — to decide whether to allow calls.

Most of the discussion about the House FAA bill since it was released last week has centered on a controversial proposal in the measure to separate air traffic control from the FAA.  

Critics have said the proposal would amount to a privatization of the nation's air traffic control system. 

The House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold an initial hearing on the FAA bill on Wednesday.