Wireless Wave On The Way Up

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It's beginning to look like a huge range of wireless services will soon be commonplace on airliners and perhaps general aviation isn't far behind. Lufthansa inaugurated high-speed Internet access on its flights with Boeing's Connexion system earlier this year and now it looks like competition is coming via systems that will not only provide broadband Web services, but on-demand entertainment and even homeland-security functions. Heck, we'd be happy with permission to use our cellphones. For the airlines, the Skyway Communications Holding Corp. recently launched a DC-9 research and demonstration aircraft to test and develop in-flight broadband capabilities. So far, it's come up with all the usual features you'd expect ... and likely want (Internet, e-mail, entertainment, cellphone) but it's also testing video conferencing, wireless engine and airframe data links, in-flight medical-emergency assistance and a Big Brother-ish homeland-security bundle that includes security cameras, facial recognition and pattern recognition. Keeping all this electromagnetic energy from screwing up the cockpit equipment may be accomplished by an on-board system that disables the transmitters on electromagnetically antagonistic devices during critical phases of flight. Wireless devices that permit such manipulation will flash a universal symbol that flight attendants can check to ensure the machines are safe to use on airplanes.