Monday, April 07, 2008

Is leaving a cell phone on dangerous to planes?

One of the final hurdles preventing Europeans from chit-chatting on their cell phones while hurtling through Euro airspace has been cleared, as UK regulator Ofcom, has given the OK for cell phones to be used on planes, as long as they're above 3,000 meters. (Many of the other approvals required across Europe have already been granted.)

While the idea of airborne cell phone usage has been a public disaster in the U.S., Europeans seem somewhat warmer to the notion. Perhaps it's the generally shorter flights that tend to dominate Europe, or perhaps it's cultural: Cramped, loud buses and subways tend to be the norm, so the additional noise of a few people on their phones may tend to bother Europeans less than it does their privacy-and-silence-obsessed American counterparts.

Just because Ofcom has signed off, though, that doesn't mean that cell phones will immediately start being whipped out as soon as that 10,000-foot bell chimes en route to Grenoble. It's up to individual airlines now to decide whether they want to offer cell phone in-flight services, and then they have to install the equipment on their planes to make it work. Europe's Aviation Safety Agency also has to approve any new equipment installed on planes (though this is not seen as a major obstacle; all new electronics devices installed on jets have to be approved in this manner). It's also worth noting that no airline has formally applied for permission to offer such services yet, though this is probably just a matter of time.

Of course, in the U.S., no such plans are underway, though those hopeful for getting Internet access while airborne are in for a treat. This week, the FAA approved plans for American Airlines to offer in-flight Wi-Fi service, and that approval can potentially be applied to any U.S. airline that wants to offer the same type of technology (provided by Aircell). No news on a date when such services will be turned on, but many are hoping to have live Wi-Fi rolled out on at least a few planes by the end of the year.


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