Press reports say that the FAA is in no hurry to allow this, so it may
be=20 several years before it's implemented. This article says that
they won't complete their technical study for 2 years.
Another scenario, however, would be to nibble away at the rules: use
is now allowed at the ramp with the doors open. It might be allowed on
some airlines while taxiing based on this experience. Then later it
could be allowed at altitude based on that experience. But that would
take a couple of years anyhow.
FCC approves wireless Internet access on commercial jets
By Genaro C. Armas, Associated Press
WASHINGTON Airlines can provide their passengers access to high-speed
wireless Internet while they fly, under a vote by federal regulators
"If there is a theme for this meeting, it is that we want (new
technologies) on the land, in the air, and on the sea" Federal
Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell said Wednesday as
the commission considered new rules for airlines.
"We are pushing the frontiers in order to bring the information age to
all corners of the world," he said.
The FCC also talked about whether to end the ban on using cell phones
on planes, but did not vote.
David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association, a
passenger group, said the changes under consideration would "make
business travelers more efficient and while away the time for a lot of
other passengers. This is all the wave of the future here."
Currently, the only way passengers on domestic flights can communicate
with the ground is through phones usually built into the seat
backs. That service isn't very popular: It costs far more than
conventional or cell phones about $3.99 a minute and the reception
often is poor.
Of the three companies that initially offered that service on commercial
jets, only Verizon Airfone remains. It has phones on about 1,500 jets.
The FCC approved a measure to restructure how frequencies for such
"air-to-ground" services are used and allow the airlines to offer
wireless high-speed Internet connections.
Left undecided was the issue of how many companies the FCC would
allow, through an auction, to offer such services. Verizon Airfone
maintains that letting one company handle the service would ensure the
best quality, and existing technology can't support two competitors.
Others, including Boeing and AirCell, argue for two competitors to
prevent one company from having a monopoly. FCC officials said the
auction would take place within a year.
Once plans are completed and planes outfitted with the equipment,
wireless high-speed Internet access might be found on commercial
domestic flights by 2006, said Jack Blumenstein, chairman and CEO of
Louisville, Colo.-based AirCell.
The timeline on when air travelers would be able to start using cell
phones in flight is murkier, in part because both the FCC and the
Federal Aviation Administration ban the practice.
The FCC took up the issue Wednesday in an effort to start public
discussion, and commissioners might eventually relax the rules or lift
the ban entirely. Of most concern to FCC officials is how using a cell
phone in an airplane would interfere with cell phone use on the
The FAA is worried mainly about how airborne cell phone use would
interfere with a plane's navigation and electrical systems, agency
spokeswoman Laura Brown said. The technology used on seat-back phones
and being considered for use for wireless Internet hookups causes no
The FAA has commissioned a private, independent firm to study the
issue, and results aren't due until 2006. The FAA will not make its
decision on cell phone use until after the study is completed, Brown
Allowing high-speed Internet access and cell phone use on planes could
offer cash-strapped airline companies a new source for revenues, said
Doug Wills, spokesman for the Air Transport Association, the major
airlines' trade group.
Still, airlines must weigh the demand for such service against the
desire of other passengers for a quiet cabin, Wills said. "Some people
see a cell-free environment as a good thing," he said.
Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.
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