According to the experts, the operation of cell phones and other portable electronic devices could create a "perfect storm" of interference with sensitive aircraft instruments to cause a crash -- and older aircraft are especially vulnerable.
Most personal devices transmit a signal and all emit electromagnetic waves which, in theory, could interfere with the plane's electronics. At the same time, older planes might not have the best protection against the latest devices.
"The technical advancements for wireless devices and portable electronic equipment is so rapid, it changes every week. The advances in airplanes take 20 years," the 'Daily Mail' quoted Doug Hughes, an electrical engineer and air safety investigator, as saying.
But it is not as simple as saying that if a device is on, it is a problem.
"It's a good news-bad news thing. Electronic devices do not cause problems in every case. And that's good. It's bad in that people assume it never will," said David Carson, an engineer with aircraft maker Boeing.
There is no recent survey of how often passengers ignore restrictions on use of their gadgets but seven years ago Bill Strauss, then a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, monitored the signals emitted from phones during flights and found they were frequently being left on.
So, Strauss said, the deterioration of planes and advance or decline of electronic devices over time is the immeasurable factor that is never taken into account by passengers.
"A plane is designed to the right specs, but nobody goes back and checks if it is still robust," said Strauss.
Then there are the outliers -- a cellphone that's been dropped and abused, or a battery that puts out more (power) than it's supposed to, and avionics that are more susceptible to interference because gaskets have failed.
"And boom, that's where you get interference. It would be a perfect storm that would combine to create an aviation accident," he said.
Safety experts suspect that electronic interference has played a role in some accidents, although it is difficult to prove.
One crash in which mobile phone interference with a plane's navigation was cited as a possible factor involved a 2003 flight in Christchurch, New Zealand. Eight people died when the plane flew into the ground short of the runway.
The pilot had phoned home, and the call remained connected for the last three minutes of the flight.
In the final report, the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission stated, "The pilot's own cellphone might have caused erroneous indications' on a navigational aid."