Scanning Home
Aviation Scanning Information

Scanning Aboard Airliners

The question of the use of scanning receivers aboard commercial airlines arises from time to time. The following is an extract from the FAA Regulations (FARs) and the stated positions of a number of major carriers.

It should be noted that in FAR 91.21, the term "operator" refers to the airline, not the pilot. The captain on your flight may impose additional restrictions depending on conditions, but he may not waive limits established by the airline.

The quotations from various airline policies were correct as of the date noted, but are subject to change. If any question arises, ask the cabin attendant to check with the flight crew, then obey their instructions. I may be on the same flight, and I would prefer that stray R.F. not vector us into the side of a mountain.

Federal Aviation Administration Regulations
14 CFR 91.21 - Portable Electronic Devices

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate, nor may any operator or pilot in command of an aircraft allow the operation of, any portable electronic device on any of the following U.S.-registered civil aircraft:

(1) Aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate; or
(2) Any other aircraft while it is operated under IFR.

(b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to -

(1) Portable voice recorders;
(2) Hearing aids;
(3) Heart pacemakers;
(4) Electric shavers; or
(5) Any other portable electronic device that the operator of the aircraft has determined will not cause interference with the navigation or communication system of the aircraft on which it is to be used.

(c) In the case of an aircraft operated by a holder of an air carrier operating certificate or an operating certificate, the determination required by paragraph (b)(5) of this section shall be made by that operator of the aircraft on which the particular device is to be used. In the case of other aircraft, the determination may be made by the pilot in command or other operator of the aircraft.

Delta Air Lines
from the "On Board" section of SKY magazine, January 1995

PORTABLE ELECTRONIC DEVICES - Current regulations prohibit the use of certain types of portable electronic devices (PEDs) on board commercial aircraft, due to the potential for interference with navigation and communications equipment.

The following devices may not be operated at any time on Delta aircraft: cellular telephones, commercial two-way transmitters (i.e. walkie-talkies); amateur transmitters (i.e. ham radios); citizen band (CB) transmitters; 49 MHz transmitters; devices designed to radiate RF energy on a specific frequency; peripheral devices for computers or games connected by cable (i.e. printers); AM/FM radios and portable TV sets; remote-control toys.

The following may not be operated when the aircraft is at the gate, in the taxi, take-off, initial climb, approach, and landing phases: personal computers (cable-connected peripheral devices such as printers, external disc drives, etc, are not authorized); personal computer games; VHF scanner receivers; compact-disc players; digital/ cassette-tape player-recorders; video recorders/playback systems; calculators.

The following may be operated at all times: hearing aids; heart pacemakers and other implanted medical devices; electronic watches; electronic nerve stimulators; properly certified operator-installed and -maintained equipment, such as the public passenger-telephone equipment. Personal life-support systems may be operated during all phases of flight, provided that the equipment conforms to the criteria established by the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

UPDATE - Received in November, 1999: "I fly weekly & have made friends with some Flight crews. Last week one of my Delta buddies advised me that Delta changed its VHF scanner policy in '99, I checked all the Sky magazines I have 6-99>11-99 and sadly VHF scanners are no longer allowed during the cruise segment of flight. I am dismayed. I work in the electronics field and I am quite sure the majority laptops are a greater hazard than most scanners."

United Airlines
Press Release


Chicago, June 22, 1993 -- United Airlines today announced that effective July 1, it will prohibit the use of portable electronic devices, such as laptop computers and compact disc players, onboard its aircraft during takeoffs and landings.

United said its policy was developed to address the possibility of such devices causing electromagnetic interference with cockpit navigation or communications systems when aircraft are on the ground or flying below 10,000 feet -- the most critical phase of aircraft operation.

"We have not experienced any safety problems with these devices, but enough questions have been raised in the industry to prompt us to implement this policy as a precautionary measure until further study determines if any safety hazard exists," said Ed Soliday, United's director-corporate safety and security.

Excluded from the new policy are electronic medical devices -- such as hearing aids and pacemakers -- and electronic watches, which may be used onboard an aircraft at any time.

United said when an aircraft is flying at or above 10,000 feet -- which normally occurs within 10 minutes of takeoff and until 10 minutes before landing -- passengers may use the following devices:

  • compact disc players;
  • electronic cameras (film or video);
  • electric shavers;
  • hand-held electronic calculators;
  • hand-held electronic games;
  • portable audio tape players;
  • portable video players (tape playback only);
  • portable voice recorders (dictation equipment);
  • portable computers with accessory printers and tape or disk drives.

American Airlines
(from the "Vantage Point" column of American Way magazine, July 1993)

Products known to cause problems include cellular phones, portable radios and televisions, and remote-control toys, which federal regulators have long barred on commercial aircraft. (The Airfones available on most of our airplanes are specially engineered to eliminate interference with aircraft systems, and they have been thoroughly tested to ensure that result.)

The jury is out on whether other devices - small computers, compact-disc players, hand-held video games among them - have similar effects. Although scientific studies have been inconclusive, there is mounting anecdotal evidence of sporatic and poorly understood problems. When safety is at stake, taking avoidable risk is simply unacceptable. That is why some air carriers outlaw the use of electronic devices during all or part of their flights. American Airlines announced recently that it will no longer permit the use of such devices during takeoff and landing, and while flying at altitudes lower than 10,000 feet, the phases of flight during which cockpit instruments are used most intensively.

Atlantic Southeast Airlines
(from the ASA Flight Attendant Manual, pp 3-49&50, November 2, 1993)

3.13. Portable electronic devices

A. Regulations

The FAA prohibits use of electronic devices such as AM/FM radios, cellular telephones, etc. during flight. These receivers have circuits which can radiate signals strong enough to interfere with the aircraft's navigational systems. Non-transmitting portable electronic devices shall not be used during takeoff and landing when the seat belt sign is on, or when directed by a crew member, or during operations below 10,000 feet. However, non-transmitting portable electronic devices may be used at other times. If interference from the portable electronic device is suspected, the captain may prohibit operation of the device.

1. Prohibited equipment

The following may not be operated at any time on ASA aircraft:

a. Cellular telephones.
b. Commercial two-way radios (i.e. Walkie Talkie).
c. Personal two-way radios (i.e. Ham operators).
d. Citizen Band (CB) radio.
e. 49 MHz Transmitters.
f. Peripheral devices for computers or computer games (i.e. printers, external mouse, "joy sticks").
g. AM/FM radios and televisions.
h. Remote controlled toys.
i. Devices designed to radiate radio frequencies (RF) energy on specific frequencies.
j. Cassette tape players with AM/FM radio capability. k. Compact Disc players.

2. Acceptable equipment

The following may be operated when there is not a sterile cockpit in effect. The devices must be turned off when the seat belt sign is turned on for approach.

a. Personal computers (see restriction f above).
b. Personal computer games (see restriction f above).
c. VHF scanner receivers.
d. Digital cassette tape player-recorders.
e. Video recorders/internal playback systems.
f. Calculators.

3. The following devices may be operated at all times.

a. Hearing aids.
b. Heart pacemakers or other implanted medical devices.
c. Electronic watches.
d. Electronic nerve stimulators.
e. Electric shavers.
f. ASA installed equipment.
g. Pagers.
h. Acceptable personal life support systems.

Southwest Airlines
(from correspondence dated 12 April 95)

Ground Operations Customer Service Manual:

The FAA allows inflight use of headsets, portable computers, calculators, and electronics games, provided they can be stowed properly in accordance with this rule. Customers should be requested not to use these devices during takeoffs and landings. The FAA does not allow inflight use of walkie-talkies, radio controlled toys, AM/FM radios, portable telephones, or portable television sets, all of which may affect aircraft radio and navigation equipment.

Safety Cards:

Portable Electronic Devices Not Acceptable:

  • Telephones
  • Radios, AM/FM, VHF, battery or cord operated
  • TV sets -- battery or cord operated
  • Electronic games or toys with remote controls
  • Computer, calculators, or typewriters larger than a briefcase and cannot be stored under the seat
  • Data entry pad, hand held with umbilical cord attached
June 1995

Scanning Home
Aviation Scanning Information

This site hosted by

These pages created by Jim Fordyce. © 2005 Jim Fordyce