US weighs permitting cellphone calls on planes

US weighs permitting cellphone calls on planes

WASHINGTON – The Associated Press
US weighs permitting cellphone calls on planes

The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). REUTERS photo

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering allowing airplane passengers to use their cellphones for calls and text messaging during flights, setting up a challenging debate over technical and social implications.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration said it would allow expanded use of electronic devices aboard planes, ending a long-standing ban. But the devices are still not allowed to connect to any ground networks and FCC rules have long banned the use of cellphones aboard.

The new proposal, to be voted on at the FCC’s Dec. 12 meeting, would let the airlines decide whether to allow passengers to make phone calls, send texts or otherwise using their own wireless data and call services - although still not during takeoff or landing. The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) in altitude, but not during takeoffs and landings. “Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Nov. 21 in announcing that he has circulated the proposal.

 But the battle could turn out to be a lengthy challenge as experts warn that passengers are not too welcoming of the prospect of listening to their neighbors chatter during flight. Delta Air Lines, for instance, said it would not allow cellphone use even if the FCC approves it, citing an “overwhelming sentiment” in customer feedback against voice calls in flight.

United Continental and Southwest Airlines also said their customers have expressed concerns about cellphone use during flight. Both carriers said they would study any changes the FCC might make.

“Passengers overwhelmingly reject cell phone use in the aircraft cabin,” the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union said, urging the FCC to not proceed with its proposal. The union expressed concerns that the conversations could be a distraction during emergencies and imperil safety.

Some experts also questioned whether the new rules would put a virtually impossible burden on flight attendants to ensure that cell phones are on but disconnected from the networks during takeoff and landing before the plane reaches 10,000 feet.