The International Herald Tribune reports cellphones on airplanes are almost a reality.
Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, installed satellite-based technology enabling voice calls and text messaging on one of its Boeing 777 jets late last year and expects to begin offering the service to passengers on a yet-to-be announced international route early next month. The service has already obtained approval from air safety and telecommunications regulators in 25 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, covering about 30 different routes that Emirates flies. The carrier expects to outfit its entire fleet with the technology within a couple of years.
A half-dozen other airlines, including Air France-KLM, Ryanair and Qantas, are due to offer similar services in Europe and Australia later this year. Travelers in North America, meanwhile, will have to await the conclusion of ongoing reviews of the technology by both the Federal Communication Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
It has long been known within the industry, though fought off by the FAA, that cell phones have not been proven to interfere with a airplanes functions or systems, which is why so much excitement was initially expressed during the development of the WIFI Internet program on airplanes which Boeing recently squashed for economic reasons.
According to the article, AeroMobile, the British company providing the cellular technology to Emirates and Qantas, will allow any GSM cell phone to work on their system if the passenger’s phone plan includes international roaming. The initial rates are expected to be USD $3 to $3.50 per minute with the airlines, AeroMobile, and your service plan all splitting the fee.
There are some restrictions, technically, to this new cell phone system. AeroMobile and OnAir report that the cabin crew ill have the ability to switch on and off cell phone activity during the flight, which may include night time flights, allowing passengers to sleep if they desire rather than be disturbed. Aircraft base stations will only be able to handle a maximum of five or six voice calls at a time, with others placed in a queue until a line opens up, similar to the current seat-back phones. Dependent upon how many base stations the plane has, this will limit the number of calls made at any one time.
Still, with these restrictions, which may be temporary as the technology develops, it will be interesting to see how it will work with 40-300 people sitting next to each other in a confined space while a few people chat away on their phones at the top of their lungs. I’m sure we’ll hear a volume of complaints very soon.