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FCC confirms it may allow mobile calls during flight, but airlines have final say (update)

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Man on cellphone in plane
Man on cellphone in plane

The FCC has confirmed that on December 12th, it will consider a proposal that would give airlines the option to let passengers make cellphone calls during flight. But the Commission is also attempting to head off any consumer unrest over such a change, underlining the fact that airlines (and their customers) will make the final decision on cellphone use. In fact, by default, placing a call would remain prohibited. "This is purely a technical decision; it would leave airlines free to develop any in-flight phone usage policy they may wish," the FCC says. That position is reiterated several times during a FAQ that follows, with the FCC readily admitting, "We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes."

"It will be the airlines’ decision."

If approved, the new rules would allow airlines to install an Airborne Access System in each of their planes. This equipment enables mobile devices connect to commercial cellular networks. But regardless of how you feel about about "The FCC’s current rules prohibiting use of cellphones on planes were adopted more than 20 years ago to protect against radio interference to cellphone networks on the ground." "Technology that can be installed directly on an airplane is now available to prevent such interference and has already been deployed successfully in many other countries around the world without incident."

The Commission also wants to make sure you don't confuse this proposal with recent changes implemented by the FAA; you may be able to use your Kindle everywhere, but cellular calls will only be permitted above 10,000 feet. The FCC will formally open a public comment period on the topic within the next few weeks, but if you can't wait, it's also taking feedback right now at its 1-888-CALLFCC hotline.

Update: New FCC chairman Tom Wheeler says he's personally not a fan of the idea. "We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself," he told the Los Angeles Times.