updated 07:20 am EST, Fri November 22, 2013
Proposal comes after FAA, EASA allows device use in flights
Passengers on flights in the United States may be allowed to use the cellular connection on their smartphones and tablets while traveling in the future. New proposals from the FCC come weeks after the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) allowed device use at all stages of flight, and after the European Commission (EC) permitted 3G and 4G LTE connections during transit.
The proposals, reported by the Wall Street Journal, would reverse a ban by the FCC on cellular calls during flights, one that has been in force since 1991. A statement from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed the proposal, stating "Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules."
An earlier attempt to lift the ban in 2004 was met by stiff opposition, with a total of 8,000 comments over the "lack of technical information" for its safety and the likelihood of it being a nuisance to other passengers being received by the commission. It decided against the move in 2007. Though the proposals are still being considered by a number of parties, if they were to be introduced, it would be down to the individual airline to decide whether or not to allow passengers to make or receive calls.
While it is possible that the airlines could limit cellular connections to just data and texts, banning voice calls entirely, such a system would effectively replicate existing in-flight Wi-Fi offerings from companies such as Gogo, and would provide little in the way of extra benefit. That being said, Gogo is working on allowing smartphone users to continue to use their phones on the plane by way of a mobile app, but such an app could just be limited to texts at launch, if only to avoid raised voices disturbing other passengers.