Europe establishes in-flight mobile phone standards


(eTN) – The European Commission on Monday introduced rules making it easier for airlines to offer passengers the chance to safely make and receive mobile phones while flying.
The measures announced by the European Union’s executive harmonize the technical and licensing requirements for the use of mobile phones on board aircraft.

Telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding said she expects “operators to be transparent and innovative in their price offerings.” Reding called on airlines and operators to create “the right conditions” onboard aircraft to ensure that those who want to use in-flight communication services do not disturb other passengers.

National licenses granted to individual airlines by the member states in which they are registered thus will be recognized throughout the EU.

OnAir, a joint venture with SITA and Airbus offering in-flight communications, said it welcomed the measures. The company said the move “will ensure European consumers will be able to use their mobile phones and BlackBerry-type devices during flights.”

Airlines wishing to offer such a service throughout the EU will only need apply in one of its member states. Air France is among the European airlines that have begun testing such a service on its flights. “One regulatory decision for all European airspace was required for this new service to come into being,” said EU telecoms commissioner Viviane Reding.

On the technical side, the service involves fitting planes with their own cellular network. The existence of the so-called Mobile Communication services on Aircraft (MCA) means mobile phone transmissions need only travel a few meters inside the cabin, making their use perfectly safe, officials said.

The bad news for passengers is that because their mobile phones will link to the airline’s network rather than to their own operator’s, calls will be subject to roaming charges similar to those incurred when traveling abroad.

Moreover, airline calls will not be subject to EU restrictions on terrestrial roaming charges, and will therefore likely be higher.

But officials in Brussels insist these type of calls will nevertheless be “substantially cheaper” than the prohibitively expensive satellite phone calls offered by some airlines in the past.
Another major source of concern is the end of peace and quiet aboard flights.

Germany’s Lufthansa, for instance, has no immediate plans to launch such a service, since a study found that many of its clients would feel disturbed by other passengers speaking on the phone.

Other airlines are thinking about limiting the service to text-messaging and internet surfing.
EU officials said the commission would not regulate on this issue, treating it as a matter of common sense.

In-flight calls are expected to be introduced by some European airlines in the coming weeks and will continue to be prohibited during take-off and landing.