LONDON U.K. communications regulator Ofcom says airlines can offer mobile communication services on U.K.-registered aircraft subject to approval by the relevant U.K. and European aviation authorities – the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the U.K.
The decision has been developed jointly with other EU countries and will enable use in European airspace. It follows an Ofcom consultation on the proposals published in October 2007.
The system works by passengers’ own mobile phone handsets connecting to an on-board base station. Both of these must be switched off during take-off and landing to ensure they do not interfere with mobile networks on the ground.
Once the aircraft reaches a minimum height of 3,000 metres, the system may be switched on by the cabin crew. Mobile handsets will then be able to use the aircraft’s network service to make and receive calls which will be routed via a satellite link to the network on the ground. Calls will be billed through passengers’ normal service providers.
Mobile phones will connect to the system for 2G (GSM) data, voice and text services. If the service is successful it could be extended to 3G and other services in future. Ofcom proposes to allow the use of these systems by amending the aircraft operators’ existing Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 licences.
Last year Airbus said the European Aviation Safety Agency had approved the use of cell phones and some BlackBerry models on some airplanes.
In a submission to Ofcom, Intellect, the trade association for the U.K. technology industry said it enthusiastically supports developments in both the technologies and in the various applicable regulations that will lead towards widespread and user-friendly satellite communications capability in aircraft for use by both passengers and airline staff. In particular, the possible use of a passenger's personal mobile phone (or modem for data communications) will greatly increase the ease of use and, probably also, the demand for communications en route. The 'flying base station' concept – with the link between the aircraft and the terrestrial networks being provided by satellite communications, will be a major step forward.