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Mobile phones on aircraft

Saturday, November 04, 2006
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If you want to be able to use your mobile or cellphone on an airplane while travelling, it looks like it will be a while yet before you can. The UK regulator Ofcom recently issued a "Mobile Services on Aircraft - Summary of stakeholder views about the introduction of mobile services on aircraft" (here's the official summary of the summary). That followed a request from the industry to Ofcom to review the wireless telegraphy licensing regime in order to help facilitate the provision and use of mobile services on aircraft, and Ofcom had issued various papers etc about it when seeking views.

This summary is the result. It doesn't really say much except that people think it's A Good Thing to allow the use of mobiles on planes so that people can be "connected everywhere at all time", and they're going to consider it further and consult before doing anything. Mainly, "Ofcom remains committed to a multilateral rather than a unilateral approach to mobile services on aircraft and to the mutual recognition of licensing arrangements between participating states. Ofcom will continue to work with its opposite numbers in other countries to reach multilateral solutions to the issues raised and continue to liaise with the CAA on this issue."

So they're going to try to reach agreement across Europe as to how to achieve this, from both regulatory and technical viewpoints. However, in addition, "EASA and the CAA will consider separately, the airworthiness safety aspects and other issues raised by the proposed services. The introduction of any services cannot be provided until the requirements of those bodies have been satisfied." And, "No systems would be allowed to operate on UK registered aircraft without the approval of the relevant authorities and with the appropriate inter-administration agreements to ensure that authorisations were mutually recognised by participating countries."

"A common approach to authorisation across the EU is being developed but is not likely to be complete before mid-2007. In parallel, the wide range of regulatory issues outside Ofcom’s responsibility are being explored by the relevant authorities in the UK and worldwide: it is not yet clear when these will be concluded.

Ofcom expects to issue a further consultation document on these issues when the European and CAA / EASA processes are further advanced. No services can be provided until these regulatory decisions have been taken and implemented."

So - it'll be at least mid 2007 before the authorities decide if they can agree to agree, and given the speed at which the European Union moves, I suspect it'll be yet another couple of years after that before we see the capability for mobiles to be used on airplanes in Europe. Which is probably A Good Thing to the many others who think it's bad enough to be subjected to people on their cellphones in trains and buses!

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