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The sky's no longer the limit

22/11/2013
If you own a smartphone and have been on a plane with it in the last few years, then the chances are that at some point you have been asked by a flight attendant to turn it off and put it away during If you own a smartphone and have been on a plane with it in the last few years, then the chances are that at some point you have been asked by a flight attendant to turn it off and put it away during take-off or landing.  This could now be a thing of the past in Europe thanks to a recent ruling from Europe's air safety agency.  Not only that, but being able to take a 3G or 4G call on it above the clouds soon looks set to be a reality following a European Commission (EC) approval of 3G and 4G services mid-flight. 

Preparing for take-off

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has approved the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing so you'll soon be able to get your tablet out and start preparing for that crucial meeting even earlier guilt free (whilst listening to Fleetwood Mac through your head-phones).  The approval follows the US Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) ruling in October 2013 that personal electronic devices such as tablet computers, eBook readers and MP3 players could be used "during all phases of flight".  Mobile phones will also be allowed for take-off and landing as long as they are put into "airplane mode". 

Currently EASA guidance prevents the use of mobile devices on aircraft during taxiing, take-off and landing.  This is all set to change in light of this decision.  It will now be up to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to implement the recommendations with individual airlines in the UK before each UK airline can present a safety case to the CAA in the UK.  US airline, Delta, has already submitted a plan to the FAA and hopes to allow passengers on domestic flights to use electronic devices throughout flights as early as this month.  Industry commentators have predicted that UK airlines could be permitted to allow the use of personal electronic devices during all phases of flight before Christmas this year. 

Surfing in the sky

The EC has also last week approved the use of spectrum for 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) services for mobile data, calls and text messages above 3,000m.  This will allow airlines to rebroadcast their own mobile network in the skies that are linked to the ground via satellite connections.  Whilst airlines have been able to offer 2G and Wi-Fi in-flight for some time, passengers will now be able to use their mobile phones to make voice calls over 3G, 4G and mobile data.  It's important to note that this decision only creates the possibility for airlines to allow these services during flights rather than a right for passengers.

Mobile Communications On-board Aircraft (MCA) technology is similar to normal mobile roaming in that passengers are billed through their service provider.  The price applying to MCA services is usually the one corresponding to "rest of the world", irrespective of where the aircraft is physically at any given moment.   MCA systems work through an antenna on board an aircraft that sends a signal to the ground network via a satellite connection.  It is generally accepted that the EC Roaming Regulations do not apply to calls made to and from airplanes using satellite networks.     

 

 

The EC press release can be found here: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-13-1066_en.htm

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