EU Approves Cell Phones for In-Flight Use

Dennis Faas's picture

On Monday, regulators released plans to allow in-flight cell phone use across all 27 nations in the European Union once a flight has reached an altitude of 10,000 feet.

The service will be provided for Global System for Mobile communications (G.S.M.) handsets only, a standard that is used by 90% of wireless users in Europe. A device called 'On Air', created by Airbus, will be used to create a small cellular network on board an aircraft and then send signals via satellite to cell towers on the ground. (Source:

Despite the government's good intentions, various problems remain or are anticipated. Viviane Reding, Europe's telecommunications commissioner, was quick to let carriers know that if roaming rates are too high for the new service, the EU will intervene. Exorbitant roaming rates from cell phone carriers have plagued customers placing calls outside their home country, a problem that Reding has been trying to solve. (Source:

There is also some debate as to how widespread the service will be. Lufthansa has refused to participate, claiming their customers are not interested, while Air France is currently running limited trials. Britain, on the other hand, announced it is already prepared to hand out licenses. It is unclear whether North American carriers will be allowed to offer service while in EU airspace.

Whether customers will grow to appreciate or despise cellular use on airplanes remains to be seen. In addressing this concern, EU spokesman Martin Selmayr replied with a subtle plea likely to fall on deaf ears: "Almost everybody will want to use this service. We hope that also some people will still use the aircraft as a moment of tranquility and not disturb other passengers."

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