U.S. moves ahead on plan to allow mobile phone use in planes


U.S. regulators Thursday opened the door to allowing mobile phone use on airplanes -- an issue that has stirred howls of protest over the potential for disruption in the skies.

The Federal Communication Commission's 3-2 vote came after chairman Tom Wheeler said the action would merely publish rules for public comment, and determine the technical feasibility of in-flight phone use.

"This is a rule about technology, this is not a rule about usage," Wheeler said ahead of the vote.

"I don't want to listen to the business conversations of the person sitting next to me .. but if technology eliminates interference and therefore eliminates the need for the interference protection rule, then we ought to eliminate the rule."

Some 60 members of Congress signed a letter urging the regulatory agency to allow only text and Internet services in flight, without voice calls.

Wheeler said however that potential problems should be addressed in the rule-making process, and that other agencies as well as airlines would be charged with determining whether to permit voice calls during flight.

"Without this proposal, you would not be able to email or to text or surf the web," Wheeler said.

Separately, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made a similar point, saying the FCC's only role "is to examine the technical feasibility of the use of mobile devices in flight."

Foxx said his agency's responsibility "is to determine if allowing these calls is fair to consumers" and "will now begin a process that will look at the possibility of banning these in-flight calls."

FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel voted to move forward on the proposal but voiced concerns over the prospect on in-flight calls.

Rosenworcel said that even though the FCC members were considering the matter as "technicians," that "does not absolve ourselves of the consequences of our decision."

She added that she feared an end to the prevailing quiet atmosphere in airplane cabins and expressed concern "that our safety would be compromised" by allowing such calls.

Commissioner Ajit Pai voted against the proposal, saying it "sets an unfortunate precedent when it comes to licensing" of spectrum for in-flight communications.

Pai said the proposal would grant the spectrum to airlines at a time without when mobile operators were spending "tens of billions" of dollars in spectrum auctions.

Additionally, Pai said safety and national security concerns had not been addressed and that he was disappointed there had been no comment from law enforcement agencies.

Wheeler argued however that the action "is intended to solicit input" and is not a final decision.

The FCC pointed out that foreign airlines have used onboard mobile access technology for years and that the agency "believes that these systems can be successfully deployed in the United States, and that the time has come to examine reforms to the agency's outdated rules with respect to mobile wireless service onboard aircraft."

"We are in support of new options for airline passengers to safely use wireless data for non-voice services such as text messaging, email, and Internet browsing; but we are adamantly opposed to the use of cellular voice services during flights," said the letter released by Representative Peter DeFazio.

The Swiss-based mobile communications firm OnAir said it supported the FCC's proposal, saying it "paves the way for U.S. passengers to have the same inflight connectivity choices as passengers everywhere else in the world."

"Over four and a half million passengers use OnAir inflight connectivity each year and what is very striking is that there has not been one single complaint about disruption caused by phone calls," said Ian Dawkins, chief executive of OnAir. "Mobile OnAir is available on every continent apart from North America. People from all over the world, including Americans, use it every day."

© (c) 2013 AFP

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The truth is that airlines in other parts of the world have offered onboard cell service for several years with no accidents and excellent customer satisfaction and even WiFi service has been available on American flights for years with no accidents related to interferences with electronics because the electronic systems are well shielded against electromagnetic interference from both internal and external sources. Therefore the bottom line is that mobile phone usage on airplanes is safe at any altitude. Thus there was a contradiction because cell phones have been allowed onboard all planes even though they were supposedly dangerous to air travel.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Please don't do it. I'm guilty of speaking loud (for some reason) when on a mobile and when at work also as soon as the call comes in get up and walk around the place. But that is at work. But God forbid I'm stuck next to some loudmouth of such importance that he feels the rest of the plane needs to know that "Tommy's not in the loop" at maximum volume. Also given time zones you will have the same inconsiderate loudmouths braying "we must meet up in LA" at 3.00 am flying London to Tokyo. If you can't survive an international flight without be rude and inconsiderate then take a ship. My fellow passenger in economy is never so important that his call cannot wait.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Fit an air-lock and let people talk out on the wing all they like.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Text, e-mail and internet access? No problem. Voice calls? Hell no.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

People can't go a few hours without using their cellular phones?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I read elsewhere that the airlines are reconsidering. Just because it is technologically possible to make phone calls now, does not mean it should be automatically allowed. Haven't any of these experts flown in a cramped plane surround for hours by hundreds of strangers? The best thing about flights is a relief from the danged phone!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is ridiculous. what if I don't want to sit next to a person chatting for the next 8-13 hours? Another reason for airlines to collect premium price for "cell phone free seating" on the aircraft. I think internet usage & text is OK but not talking on cell phone.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

a) If the use of any device is deemed "aircraft safe", then there shouldn't be any laws against it. b) Airlines should set and enforce rules based on their business models.

I can see where AL-1 would allow unlimited talk and AL-2 would prevent it. The market will decide which works. Or perhaps a "talking seat" area would be sold for a 50% added cost? I'd be flying AL-2 (btw).

OTOH, if the charges for using a cell phone were at airphone costs ($10/min?), then perhaps it should be allowed by the airlines? Or perhaps a graduated scale for pricing? 1 min is free, 2 min is $10, 3rd min is $50 and just add a zero for every additional minute of total use on a flight? I could live with that.

Regardless of the outcome, there doesn't need to be a law preventing talkers, provided that thorough testing shows it is safe.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

This is just the FCC taking the step into consultation level, where they're seeking people's opinions.

And even if it's allowed by the FCC as aircraft-safe, it's still up to the aircraft companies whether to use it or not.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Sung to the tune of The Merry Old Land of Oz: yak yak yak, blah blah blah. That applies to the mealy- mouthed bureaucrats as well as the blabbermouths who wish to go global with their eternal yakathon. If they would stop talking and start thinking we may actually get somewhere. There must be some tax revenue play for the government, else they would never remove a rule (i.e., part of the rat maze).

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The execs marketing noise cancelling earphones will be rubbing their hands with glee!

Personally wont affect me all that much, 99% of the flying I do is over the ocean, good luck getting reception in the middle of the pacific. This issue primarily affects domestic flights and such flights in the USA and Europe. If your immediate neighbour pulls out a phone on the plane, tell them you have a pacemaker and the proximity of their cellphone is endangering your health.

I can see Japanese doing that cupped hand over the end of the phone clandestine cellphone call body position though.

I wish the airlines offered a child free, obese free, cell free, stinky foot free, - section on their planes. ( I say all categories are the chances of any one of them materializing as valid options are as highly unlikely as the other)

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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