Senate Commerce Committee Approves Ban on Cellphone Voice Calls During Flights

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee today approved by voice vote Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization legislation (S 1405) that includes a provision requiring the Department of Transportation to issue regulations banning cellphone voice communications during scheduled flights, except by on-duty flight crew members, flight attendants, or federal law enforcement officers. The legislation also includes a provision that expresses support for an effort to analyze whether some spectrum used by the FAA could be freed up for commercial use.

As introduced last week (TR Daily, June 23), the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2017 would have permitted DoT to ban in-flight voice communications but would not have required it. Today, however, the committee approved an amendment backed by Sens. Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) mandating such a ban. Yesterday, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee approved its version of FAA reauthorization legislation (HR 2997), the 21st Century Aviation Innovation, Reform, and Reauthorization Act, which also includes a ban on in-flight voice communications (TR Daily, June 28). Also yesterday, Sens. Markey and Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) introduced legislation that would direct DoT to issue regulations banning the use of cellphones for voice calls on regularly scheduled flights, except by on-duty members of the flight crew or law enforcement officers (TR Daily, June 28).

“Passengers should not have to suffer through the conversations of others, and flight crews should not be disrupted while performing their important safety and security duties,” according to a news release issued by Sen. Markey’s office today.

The ban is backed by air travelers, pilots, and flight attendants.

The committee today also approved an amendment offered by Sens. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) and Maggie Hassan (D., N.H.) that expresses support for an effort by the FAA, the Defense and Homeland Security departments, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study the feasibility of making at least 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 1300-1350 MHz band available for reallocation for non-federal use.

Under the scenario, the spectrum could be freed up by consolidating existing FAA surveillance radar and relocating it to other spectrum. The inter-agency SENSR (spectrum efficient national surveillance radar) team issued a request for information in January and plans to hold individual meetings with vendors this summer. Earlier this month, the FAA said it had received about $71.5 million from the Office of Management and Budget pursuant to the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015 for the initiative (TR Daily, June 2).

The amendment approved today said the FAA “should continue its assessment of the feasibility of making the 1300-1350 megahertz band of electromagnetic spectrum available for non-Federal use.”

“CTIA applauds Senators Gardner and Hassan for their bipartisan amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act calling on the FAA to identify additional low-band spectrum for commercial use,” said Kelly Cole, the trade group’s senior vice president-government affairs. “Every 10 MHz of spectrum made available for wireless service creates over 1.6 million jobs and generates $24.3 billion in GDP growth.” —Paul Kirby,

Courtesy TRDaily