FCC Proposes Lifting Inflight Cellphone Ban

Agency will consider proposal in December.

Passenger Electronics

Passenger Electronics

The Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing cellphone use on airline flights above 10,000 feet, a change that could provide a healthy cash windfall for carriers while risking upsetting passengers who have to endure chatty seatmates.

The agency, which prohibits cellphone use for making phone calls or accessing data in flight, is circulating proposed rulemaking allowing airlines and business aircraft operators to install cellular base stations that would transmit data and voice from airplanes to cellular networks on the ground. Airlines could control when voice and data services are available and charge extra for access.

The FCC's move comes weeks after the FAA said it plans to change its rules for using electronic devices in flight. The agency is lifting restrictions so that devices, such as e-readers and tablets, can be used at all times, including during takeoff and landing.

The cellphone proposal, which the FCC plans to address at a meeting next month, is fueling debate over whether passengers should be allowed to make phone calls in the tight confines of an airliner cabin. The agency considered a similar proposal in 2004 but dropped it after flight attendants and others lobbied against the change. At the time, the FCC said it lacked the technical data needed to alter the rules.

Cellphone use would still be prohibited in general aviation airplanes that lack the special base stations airlines and bizjet operators will install, but it's likely the technology will be marketed to GA eventually.

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