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U.S. lawmakers urge continued ban on in-flight cellphone calls

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[September 23, 2014]  WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of almost 80 U.S. lawmakers urged regulators on Monday not to end the ban on making mobile phone calls on commercial airline flights.

The lawmakers' letter highlighted concerns that a proposed Federal Communications Commission rule that would allow the use of mobile broadband technology on flights raised critical safety and security issues.

The letter was sent to the heads of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the FCC, and urged a comprehensive review of policy across jurisdictional lines.

"Passengers making voice calls during flight could impact the ability of crew members - flight attendants and pilots - to perform their jobs, keep passengers safe and the cabin environment calm," said the letter from 77 members of the House of Representatives.

The lawmakers' action came at a time when instances of "aisle rage" have been rising on often cramped, crowded flights. On Sept 1 an argument over leg room and a reclined seat forced a Delta Air Lines flight to make an unscheduled landing, the third such incident in about a week.

Unfettered cellphone calls in a confined space are seen as another potential spark for passenger anger, and one that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has acknowledged.

"I get it. I donít want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else," Wheeler said last year when announcing a review of FCC policy on connecting to wireless services onboard aircraft.

Instigating the lawmakers' letter were Representatives David McKinley, Republican of West Virginia, and Dan Lipinski, Democrat of Illinois.

Flight attendants, long critical of the concept of in-flight cellphone calls, applauded the move.

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"In far too many operational scenarios, mobile broadband use could be far worse than a mere nuisance: it could have catastrophic effects on aviation safety and security," said Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA.

The union represents nearly 60,000 flight attendants across 19 carriers.

The FCC has been reviewing its policy since December. It could face opposition from the DOT, which has said it might specifically ban cellphone calls if the broadband policy is relaxed.

Besides issues within the passenger cabin, concerns continue that wireless technology can cause radio interference, could be used to tamper with flight controls, or could be "used to hide or trigger on-board explosives," the lawmakers said.

(Reporting by Ros Krasny; editing by Andrew Hay)

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