FCC Considers Lifting Airborne Cellphone Ban

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When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked the public last week for comment regarding the use of cellphones on airplanes, it got an earful. By the weekend, nearly 2,000 air travelers had sent in e-mails, the vast majority pleading that the phones -- too many of which come with loud yakkers attached -- continue to be banned. But the FCC says issues of annoyance are not within its purview. In any case, changes will not take place until the FAA is done with studies now underway, which is not expected to be before 2006. If the ban is lifted, airlines may choose to erect cell-free zones on board. Some Amtrak commuter trains have designated "quiet cars," which have proved popular. For GA pilots who fly in smaller cockpits, that may not be an option. FCC rules require cellular phones to be turned off once an aircraft leaves the ground to avoid interfering with terrestrial cellular systems. FAA regulations also restrict the use of mobile telephones and other portable electronic devices on aircraft to ensure against interference to onboard communications and navigation equipment.

The FCC also announced last week that it will auction off licenses for operating in the 800-MHz band currently dedicated to commercial air-ground service. The FCC said this action will help bring broadband services to the traveling public onboard aircraft and lead to greater technical, economic and marketplace efficiency for this spectrum. New air-ground service may be any type (e.g., voice, data, broadband internet, etc.) and may be provided to any or all aviation markets (e.g., commercial, military and general), the FCC said.