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Ryanair to allow mobile phones

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- "Hi, I'm on the plane." This phrase may soon be as familiar on flights as it is on trains with the announcement on Wednesday by Ryanair that it intends to install a system on its planes to allow the use of mobile phones during flights.

The budget airline has agreed a deal with communications joint venture OnAir to fit its aircraft with technology to allow passengers to use their mobile phones on planes. It plans to kit out its entire fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft beginning in mid-2007.

Other airlines apart from Ryanair have expressed an interest in the system with Air France-KLM the first airline set to start trials of the service in February 2007.

The system will allow passengers to be able to call, text and e-mail using their mobile phones and BlackBerrys charged at rates that mirror international roaming charges.

Users will be charged by their mobile service providers on their monthly bills and Ryanair will receive a commission from OnAir. The airline reported a rise in quarterly profit and revenues this month, helped by higher ancillary revenues from items such as car hire and travel insurance.

However the recent security limits placed on hand luggage allowed onboard affected the budget airline as it relies on its quick turnaround times to provide low prices. The introduction of a charge for mobile phone use on their flights would provide a new source of revenue.

Chief Executive Michael O'Leary told Reuters he expected the mobile phone service to post a profit "in a couple of years," noting Ryanair would pay to install the required equipment though it would look for sponsors to offset this cost.

He said the service, which will function at above 10,000 feet, would also help the airline introduce onboard gaming. "This will be the entry point to online, onboard gaming," O'Leary said, noting phones would provide a means of charging users.

Asked about the social effects of in-flight mobile phone conversations he said: "Why should I care if it is generating some money?"

"People are in a confined space. People tend to not want to get into long and involved mobile phone discussions with people sitting around them. I think it will be more people sending texts."

However, the view from the cockpit is different.

"We have quite enought air rage already," said Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA).

"Anyone who has travelled in a train and suffered noise from mobiles knows how irritating it can be. But at least you can walk away to the buffet car. In an aircraft you will be much more restricted. The 'climate' within the passenger cabin could be such that we see more instances of anti-social behaviour."

While the issues of social responsibility will ultimately be dictated by airlines' individual policies and passengers manners, there still remain a number of hurdles that need to be jumped before the system can be implemented.

"Various safety, legal and regulatory issues still need to be resolved before the system can be implemented, " said a spokesperson for the UK regulator for communications industry (Ofcom).

The system is still to receive regulatory approval from the Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT), which is expected in November. Each of the 23 European countries that Ryanair flies to would then need to issue a license for the system.


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Soon there may be an easier way of communicating with those onboard

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