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Worker jailed for mid-air cellphone use

AN OIL worker was jailed for 12 months yesterday for using a mobile phone on an aeroplane in a manner likely to endanger its safety.

Judge Anthony Ensor told Neil Whitehouse, 28, that evidence during his trial last month had shown that the Boeing 737 flight from Madrid to Manchester could have been put at risk.

The jury at Manchester Crown Court had been told that Whitehouse, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, had repeatedly refused to switch off the phone when asked by the cabin crew and pilot on board the British Airways flight last September. When told by the crew that the phone could have interfered with navigational systems, he retorted: "Why? Are we going to get lost?"

Sentencing Whitehouse, the judge urged the Civil Aviation Authority to conclude investigations into legislation banning mobile phones on planes, in line with laws in the United States and Germany. "Proliferation of ownership of mobile phones and an increasing number of reports from pilots of electro-magnetic interference makes this a priority," he said.

The prosecution was the first of its kind under the Air Navigation Order 1995 which makes it an offence to use a mobile phone in a way likely to endanger an aircraft.

The crew had seen Whitehouse type the message "I love you" on the mobile's text screen. He had treated the aircraft's pilot, David Travis, with "arrogance and disdain" when he refused to hand over his phone, the judge said.

Whitehouse was sitting within six metres of 100 pieces of complex electronic equipment that could have been affected by signals from his phone. There were also 15 radio systems on the Boeing 737 and an emergency system. Mobile phone emissions, even when calls are not being made, can affect systems controlling the rate of climb, cabin pressures, altitude and landings, as well as the automatic pilot and other instrument flying systems.

The judge told Whitehouse: "The evidence was [that] over a period of 10 minutes during the early part of the flight to Manchester, you caused problems for the cabin staff by having your mobile phone switched on and ignoring their reasonable requests.

"Clearly you have no regard to the alarm and concern of passengers by your stubborn and arrogant behaviour. Any sentence must not only punish you but act as a warning to others who might be inclined to behave similarly."

The judge rejected a plea from Tom Fitzpatrick, for the defence, that Whitehouse be given only a heavy fine for what was "a fit of pique, unreasonableness and awkwardness".

Whitehouse has not worked in his pounds 35,000-a-year job as a driller in the oil industry since his arrest last September.