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FCC to consider allowing cell phone calls on flights

By Aaron Cooper, CNN
November 22, 2013 -- Updated 1350 GMT (2150 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The FCC is considering allowing cell phone talk aboard aircraft
  • The rule would apply only above 10,000 feet
  • Individual airlines could decide whether to allow cell phone conversations

Washington (CNN) -- Making a cell phone call while aloft could become a reality under a proposal by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Cell phone calls, texting and other mobile services would be allowed when the aircraft are flying above 10,000 feet, but not during takeoff and landing, according to an official briefed on the proposal.

Airlines would have to equip planes with special antennas approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration before passengers could start talking.

The commission says this proposal aims to give airline passengers the same communication access in the air that they have on trains and buses or in coffee shops.

What should become of Airplane mode?

"Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers."

For years, the FCC has banned talking on mobile phones aboard aircraft in flight due to concerns that high-flying phones could disrupt cellular towers on the ground.

A proposal to lift the cell phone ban was considered in 2004 but abandoned three years later. At the time, the FCC said that the "technical information provided ... was insufficient to determine whether in-flight use of wireless devices on aircraft could cause harmful interference to wireless networks on the ground."

A number of other nations around the world already allow cell phone use inflight on similarly equipped aircraft.

FAA allowing most electronic device use throughout flight

In a 2012 study, the FAA collected data from 11 countries and concluded that "civil aviation authorities reported no confirmed occurrences of cell phones affecting flight safety on aircraft with on-board cellular telephone base stations."

The commission is considering the proposal because passengers want it, but some surveys show passengers are split.

In a survey conducted in 2012 by Delta Air Lines, 64% of passengers said the ability to make phone calls inflight would have a negative impact on their onboard experience.

The current proposal will be discussed at the FCC's December 12 meeting and could then be opened for public comments. The commission would have to vote on a final rule before it could take effect.

If the FCC gives final approval, individual airlines could choose whether to provide mobile service to passengers.

CNN's Mike Ahlers and Rene Marsh contributed to this report.

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