Is it an accepted practice to notify the tower of a radio failure by cell phone, and use the cell phone as a radio, or are there other ways of dealing with radio failure?

  • $\begingroup$ I suspect this depends on the specifics of the situation, but you could certainly try to contact them by phone, but be prepared that they might not answer. If your intention is, for example, to land at a class D airport and you've not yet entered the airspace, you could fly over it until you get their attention (they'll shoot you with a light gun)... then land when they clear you via light signals. $\endgroup$
    – mah
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ @mah Might want to spin your light signals comment into a full answer, I think that's what he's looking for. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 21:50

1 Answer 1


As I pointed out in another answer of mine, it is not legal to use a cell phone in flight, and as another answer to the same question says, it really doesn't work very well anyway..

Now, if the pilot has an emergency, they can exercise the emergency authority of the PIC as allowed in 14 CFR 91.3(b) to go ahead and use the cell phone. If it is just the radio failure though, that isn't usually an emergency since there are other procedures in place for radio failures.

Radio Failure Procedures

AIM 6-4-1 contains the procedures to use in the event of a radio failure.

Basically, if the pilot is in visual conditions (VMC) and can remain that way, they should fly VFR (visually) and land as soon as practical. If they can't remain in VMC then there are a number of rules which spell out the route and altitude that they should fly, as well as when they should start an instrument approach.

Once they get to an airport they will still need to get clearance to land if it is a towered airport.

AIM 4-3-13 covers that, and basically the tower will communicate with the pilot via light gun signals:

light gun signal

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    $\begingroup$ wow, didn't realize that light signals would trump cell phone... $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @flyingfisch Yeah, there usually isn't really much communication needed once you are close to an airport. They need to clear you to land and clear you to taxi to the ramp and that's about it. Pretty simple and no need for a phone call. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ ...and with the noise in a light GA cockpit that light gun is going to be WAY easier to understand than a voice on the other end of a cell phone anyway, unless you have an audio panel in your plane that connects to your cell phone via bluetooth or a cable. If I take my headset off with the engine running in a Piper or Cessna there's no way I'm going to be able to carry on a phone conversation with someone :-) $\endgroup$
    – voretaq7
    Commented Mar 1, 2014 at 0:48
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    $\begingroup$ Technical nit: Actually, the pilot's authority under 14 CFR § 91.3(b) would not authorize the use of the cell phone, since it only allows deviation from 14 CFR § 91 and the cell phone restriction is 47 CFR § 22.925. The pilot-in-command (or person authorized by the PIC) does appear have the authority to use the phone in if in distress (that deliberately has the same meaning in radio-communications and aviation) under 47 CFR § 80.311, which although sub-sectioned under Maritime Service has apparently been carefully worded to apply to aircraft and other vehicles too. $\endgroup$ Commented May 10, 2014 at 23:19
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    $\begingroup$ Based on the link I found for 47 CFR - “The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is airborne is prohibited by FCC rules, and the violation of this rule could result in suspension of service and/or a fine. The use of cellular telephones while this aircraft is on the ground is subject to FAA regulations.” The FCC also recognizes emergency situations and allows for otherwise out of band emissions in those cases. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 20, 2015 at 15:36

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