21 September 2005 Two European airlines are pressing regulators to permit them to trial the use of mobile phones during flights.
British carrier BMI and Portugese TAP Air are proposing to start trials of in-flight mobile calls on short-haul flights as early as 2006, subject to regulatory approval.
Currently, mobile phones are banned on planes because of fears that their signals will interfere with aircraft navigation systems.
But the airlines believe that advances in onboard technology can allay these concerns. Their proposals would allow passengers to make and receive phone calls during those periods when other electronic equipment can be used – typically after the plane reaches 10,000 feet.
The new in-flight voice and text service would be provided by technology company OnAir, a joint venture between air transport IT services provider SITA Inc. and European aircraft manufacturer Airbus SAS. OnAir’s technology allows mobile devices to operate at lower transmission levels, which it says eliminates the risk of interference.
“Our research tells us that our premium passengers have two key concerns,” said Nigel Turner, BMI’s CEO. “These are getting quickly through the airport and ability to be able to carry on working during their journey.”
Even if the airlines can convince the authorities to permit the trials, they still face challenges in persuading passengers of the benefit. OnAir has recognised the ‘nuisance factor’ posed by a cabin of chattering passengers. Its technology has the ability to restrict the service to text-only at certain prescribed ‘quiet times’ during the flight. “This trial will guide us on usage patterns and some of the social issues in using mobile phones on aircraft,” said Turner.
OnAir already provides in-seat SMS and email services to passengers flying on Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Eva Airways, Iberia, KLM, Lauda Italy, Malaysian Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Qantas and Virgin Atlantic.