You can use your cell phone in the skies over Europe later this year
under new rules that will allow air travelers to stay in touch.
But don't expect to use your phone on a U.S. flight anytime soon.
The decision Monday by the European Union makes the 27-nation bloc the
first region in the world to scrap bans on the use of cell phones in
the sky. The EU insists the change will not compromise safety.
Cell phone calls will be connected through an onboard base
stationlinked to a satellite and then to ground networks. A flight's
captain will have the power to turn off service anytime.
Phone service will be blocked during takeoff and landing. That means
using your cell phone will fall under roughly the same restrictions as
using your laptop or iPod.
EU officials also say the system has been thoroughly tested. They say
the calls will not interfere with flight navigation and will have
additional safeguard to protect against terrorism.
In the United States, cell phone use on flights is banned by two
regulatory agencies. Both said Monday they had no plans to change
On European flights, installing a base station on the plane will allow
calls to go directly to a satellite system, preventing phones from
wreaking havoc with flight instruments by sending out signals
indiscriminately, EU officials said.
The system will rely on European GSM technology. Although the
technical standards for American and European GSM phones are
different, American GSM phones would work on European flights.
In Europe, travelers will be allowed to turn on their phones after
planes climb past 10,000 feet. That's when other electronic devices
are typically permitted. Captains will also be able to block cell
phone service during turbulence.
The EU also urged airlines to set in-flight etiquette rules to ensure
a balance between those wanting to make calls and others seeking a few
hours of peace and quiet.