Cellphones OK For EU Airlines - InformationWeek

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9/29/2014
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Cellphones OK For EU Airlines

European regulators allow voice calls throughout flights.

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Having all but eliminated legroom, airlines in Europe now have the option to reduce headroom. This does not mean overhead bins will be lowered to create an "economy-minus" class, where passengers sit chin-to-knee. Rather, the term "headroom" refers to the gap between the ambient noise level in an airplane cabin and the point at which passengers' conversations overwhelm all other sounds.

In other words, get ready for noiser European flights: The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) last week gave airlines the option to allow portable electronic devices (PEDs) on airplanes, including devices that have not been put in airplane mode and are transmitting signals.

"From the 26 September 2014 EASA has made it possible for airlines to allow passengers to use their PEDs throughout the flight, regardless of whether the device is transmitting or not," the agency said.

The fact that mobile phone calls on European airlines are now possible from a regulatory perspective does not guarantee air carriers will allow in-flight phone calls. Airlines must first ensure their planes are certified as tolerant of cellular signals, and then they must ensure their planes have the necessary equipment to handle in-flight cellular calls.

[Some people still want smartphones with keyboards. Read BlackBerry Sells 200,000 Passport Smartphones.]

After that, airlines must decide whether they want to allow in-flight phone calls, a decision that might hinge on whether there's a business case to do so -- if airlines can make money off in-flight calls, they're more likely to allow them.

Airlines might also choose to weigh the wishes of their customers, many of whom appear to dislike the idea of sitting next to a voluble caller. But in recent years, customer comfort has taken it in the knees as operating profits have reclined to a more comfortable position.

In the US, the Federal Communications Commission's proposal last year to consider lifting the ban on cellphone calls on airplanes met with opposition from the public and from lawmakers.

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

In February, the Department of Transportation solicited comments about whether to ban voice calls on flights within and to the United States. A Department of Transportation determination would supercede the Federal Communications Commission's rules.

A week ago, 77 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the agency heads of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Communications Commission, urging them to continue to ban voice calls on commercial airlines.

The lawmakers express concern that the inability of passengers to remove themselves from loud conversations conducted by other travelers could spark disputes, forcing cabin crew to mediate and distracting them from other duties. They also worry that the noise level from in-flight calls could hinder passengers' ability to hear instructions from the cockpit or cabin crew. Finally, they fear that wireless technology on planes in general -- not just cellular transmissions -- represent a potential tool for terrorism.

Most of the hundreds of comments submitted to the Department of Transportation oppose in-flight calls. For example, a person identified as "Joseph Toland" wrote, "Use of voice part of mobile phones in the confined area of an aircraft can and will lead to disruptions both verbal and physical. The carrying on of conversations without concern for those around you takes place daily and while on the ground you can remove yourself from the area. This is not possible in the cramped area of a row of aircraft seats."

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA shares the concerns raised by members of Congress and is seeking to have US rules for in-flight calls subject to multi-stakeholder review rather than the authority of a single agency.

Airlines, however, don't necessarily share the concerns of their customers or their crew. Comments submitted by a law firm representing Virgin Atlantic state that the airline has received only positive feedback about its deployment of in-flight mobile calls. The airline notes that if Department of Transportation rules extend to foreign carriers, it will lose revenue and will be unable to recoup its investment to keep passengers connected.

The Department of Transportation is expected to issue a notice of rulemaking by the end of the year.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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glenbren
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glenbren,
User Rank: Ninja
9/30/2014 | 11:53:40 AM
Re: Cell phone reception?
I hope not. I'm okay with 6 connections at a time, and at a cost of $10 a minute, I don't think many people will be using it just to chat. Please don't make it any easier.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/30/2014 | 9:22:11 AM
Re: Cell phone reception?
If the planes can maintain a Wi-Fi connection -- probably satellite? -- could they use that network to route calls?
BillB031
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0%
BillB031,
User Rank: Moderator
9/29/2014 | 7:52:27 PM
Re: Cell phone reception?
If the airline uses Aeromobile then sort of.   Aeromobile is a gprs network within the aircraft that you connect to, which switches you through a satellite to the ground.

So, no, the technology has not been hurdled where you can connect your phone to a cell tower on the ground while flying.

It's basically the same as satellite AirPhones on any aircraft except for the cell switching technology that allows you to use your own handset instead of the handset behind the seat.

The nice thing about Aeromobile is you can send and recieve text messages, and supposedly internet access.  Can't image that would be very good though.


**edit

One more thing.  Aeromobile only allows 6 GSM connections on the aircraft at one time, since satellite comm bandwith is limiited.   International cell rates apply and a connection fee, which don't come cheap.  Aircraft CDMA networks are not in the works since Europe is exclusively GSM.  All Aeromobile equiped aircraft are required by the FAA to shut off the equipment with 250 miles of US airspace.

If you were on a flight with Aeromobile, chances are you wouldn't be hearing many people gabbing away on the phone or texting unless they could afford 10 bucks a minute.
Thomas Claburn
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Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 7:07:12 PM
Re: Cell phone reception?
Well Virgin is offering in flight cell calls via Aeromobile. So clearly the technical hurdles have been overcome.
BillB031
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50%
BillB031,
User Rank: Moderator
9/29/2014 | 6:41:13 PM
Cell phone reception?
Since when can you get cell phone reception at 30,000+ feet?  And even if you somehow could, at 500mph you'd be switching from tower to tower so fast, seems like your connection would drop every 5 seconds.

I could be wrong, but I always understood directional cell tower antenna pointed in a more horizontal direction, than vertical.
Shane M. O'Neill
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Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 6:08:56 PM
Re: Please, please, no
So you don't get to talk on your smartphone while the plane is in flight. Is that a big deal? Texting or email should suffice until you land. In fact, I'd extend this law so people can't talk on their smartphones on the ground either. Ok, inside your house is fine.
Lorna Garey
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50%
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
9/29/2014 | 5:06:21 PM
Please, please, no
It would be one thing if texting were some complicated, obscure operation. But anything that needs to be communicated to a person on a plane can be done via text. Voice is just asking for more fights. People are already attacking one another over reclining seats. Imagine some drunk jerk bragging about his Vegas trip at full volume?

Just no. 
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