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6/20/2007
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In-Flight Mobile Phone Services Approved For Europe's Airbus Passengers

The OnAir system can be used for voice calls, e-mail messages, and SMS text messages after crew members have activated the system at a certain altitude.

European regulators have approved the use of cell phones and some BlackBerry models on some airplanes, and the move should eventually lead to global rollouts of mobile phone calling and Web services on Airbus aircraft.

The approval came from the European Aviation Safety Agency, according to an announcement Tuesday by Airbus.

Airbus said its OnAir venture with SITA, a communications services company, will provide the service through an on-board system that can be controlled by aircraft crew personnel.

The system is compatible with European-developed GSM standard phones and is scheduled to get underway in September in short-haul Airbus A318 planes. Airlines that have signed up for the service include Air France, TAP, Ryanair, and BMI.

"This certification is Airbus' first response to the growing market demand for on-board connectivity," said Rainer von Borstel, Airbus senior VP, cabin & cargo customization, in a statement. "It paves the way for the subsequent worldwide deployment of cell phone services and Internet based services across all Airbus aircraft types."

The OnAir system will be used at altitudes above 3,000 meters -- 9,840 feet -- and voice calls, e-mail messages, and SMS text messages will be available after crew members have activated the system. According to media reports, calls will cost about $2.50 a minute and text messages will cost about 50 cents for a single SMS message.

Attempts in the U.S. to offer in-flight cell phone service have been unsuccessful to date. A partnership between Rockwell Collins and ARINC delivers in-flight personal communications services for private aircraft that could be offered to commercial flight passengers some day in the future.

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