Thank you for the opportunity to answer such an interesting question.
After researching this question extensively, I have been able to
establish that cell phones do work from airborne planes.
Airlines in the US follow and strictly impose the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) regulation 47 CFR Ch.1 (10/01/98
Edition) which states:
Section 22.925 Prohibition on airborne operation of cellular
telephones installed in or carried aboard airplanes, balloons or any
other type of aircraft must not be operated while such aircraft are
airborne (not touching the ground). When any aircraft leaves the
ground, all cellular telephones on board that aircraft must be turned
off. The following notice must be posted on or near each cellular
telephone installed in any aircraft: The user of cellular telephones
while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the
violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a
fine. The user of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the
ground is subject to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)
The same regulation can be found at the following site:
Using Cell Phones While Flying
The FCC rule, 47 CFR 22.925, prohibits the use of cell phones after
the aircraft leaves the ground. This rule applies to all aircraft
whether commercial or private or whether powered or simply a balloon.
The FCC rule applies only to cell phones. It does not apply to other
PEDs (Portable Electronic Devices). This rule was adopted in December
1991. It was based on the Commissions concern that use of cell phones
in the air could interfere with the cell phone system on the ground.
A cell phone signal from the ground transmits only to one cell base
station. However, from an aircraft at 30,000 feet, cell phone signals
reach the earth in a wide cone that covers many receiving stations.
This could undermine the radio traffic management system and interfere
with other calls.
Source: The Subcommittee on Aviation Hearing on Portable Electronic
Do they really pose a safety hazard on aircraft.
United States House of Representatives
There is much discussion concerning the validity of the above
regulation. The following excerpt relates specifically to United
Airlines Flight 93 and refers to FAA rules prohibiting the use of
cellular phones once on board the aircraft.
Cellular networks may even have saved lives in other ways. We'll
never know exactly what happened on board the four hijacked airliners,
but we do know that some passengers used their cell phones to call
family or emergency services.
On United Airlines Flight 93, the last to be hijacked, communications
networks did more than enable people to hear a friendly voice in their
The real heroes are the passengers of course, not the technology
they used, but the events have affected public attitude toward
wireless technology nonetheless. Previously seen as nuisances, cell
phones are increasingly regarded as potential lifesavers
Many frequent fliers would also like to use cell phones on planes, but
airlines are unlikely to comply. Current FAA rules only let passengers
make calls while their plane is docked at a terminal gate. They must
switch off once the doors are closed. Similar regulations apply abroad
and in international airspace, though no cell phone will work over the
Contrary to popular belief, in-flight cell phone use isn't banned
because it interferes with navigation systems. It's banned because a
phone at high altitudes will try to connect with many base stations at
In an emergency, passengers will (quite rightly) ignore FAA rules and
use cell phones anyway. But at present, 911 operators have no way of
knowing whether a caller is even on a plane: There have already been
hoax calls made by phone thieves on the ground, who can now scramble
the Air Force by pretending to report a hijack.
Location technology would prevent this: It can't measure altitude, but
it can infer whether someone is on a plane by calculating their
Source: Did Cell Phones Save the White House?
CommWeb Where Telecom, Datacom and the Internet Converge
All the evidence points to the fact that cellular phones actually
work, with varying degrees of reliability, in airplanes. As stated
below, again referring to the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, the
FBI has evidence of cell phone conversations made between passengers
on the flight and people on the ground:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) knows from witness accounts
of cell phone conversations with passengers on the hijacked airliners
that the terrorists eluded security measures and used cardboard-box
cutters and razors to take control of the four aircrafts
United Airlines Flight 93 was airborne by 8:44 a.m., according to
radar logs. At 9:37 a.m., the plane turned south and headed back the
way it came
Passengers on cell phones learned of the crashes at the World Trade
Center and formulated a plan to respond to the hijackers.
Source: The Network of Terrorism The Hijackings
US Info International Information Programs
The following are some references of cell phone conversations being
made by passengers on the hijacked airplanes on 9/11.
FBI lets Flight 93 families hear tape
The Washington Times
A report from The Associated Press
Like the experiment conducted by Prof A.K. Dewdney mentioned in your
question, there will be references to research being made which may
imply that cellular phones cannot work at high altitudes. However, the
overwhelming evidence supported by credible authorities as
demonstrated above proves that cell phones do work at high altitudes.
Search terms used:
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Prof A K Dewdney
FCC cell phones regulations airplane
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Cell phones aircraft
9/11 cell phone calls
I hope the information I have provided for you is helpful. If you have
any questions regarding my answer, please dont hesitate asking before