WASHINGTON — The head of the Federal Aviation Administration told senators Thursday that he has no immediate plans to lift an FAA ban on in-flight cell-phone calls, delighting at least one lawmaker, who dreaded the prospect of hours of chatter on her coast-to-coast flights.
Under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., acting FAA Administrator Robert Sturgell said cell phones were "far, far, far, far down" his list of priorities, well below more pressing issues such runway safety and airline oversight.
"So that means you'll never get to it, which is fine with me," Feinstein responded. "Thank you for that answer."
The FAA and the Federal Communications Commission prohibit in-flight cell-phone calls aboard U.S. airliners. But the European Union's recent decision to allow such calls within its 27 member nations has generated speculation that U.S. airlines may press to get the ban lifted.
Three lawmakers — Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Jerry Costello, D-Ill., and John "Jimmy" Duncan, R-Tenn. — introduced legislation this week to continue the ban. Their bill is called "The HANG UP" Act: Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace.
Feinstein said she started worrying after reading about the EU's decision, picturing herself seated next to someone "talking loudly on their cell phone for five and a half hours" on her flights between Washington and San Francisco.
"I mean, I'd rather not travel," she told Sturgell, who was testifying at a Senate appropriations subcommittee that oversees transportation. "Some people are so painfully loud on their cell phone that you know everything about them by the time they hang up."