TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Fasten Your Seatbelts and No Cell Phones Please

Fasten Your Seatbelts and No Cell Phones Please

Michael Smith (
Wed, 23 Aug 2006 18:05:39 -0500

By Michael Smith

Overhead "no smoking" signs will be replaced by "no cell phones" signs
on some planes next year when technology is introduced to make it safe
for passengers to use cell phones mid-flight.

Airlines are seeking ways to police potentially annoying on-board
phone chat via symbols of a cell phone crossed out, forcing passengers
to switch off during take-off and designated "night" periods.

The company developing the satellite technology for Airbus (EADS.PA)
planes also said cabin crew would be able to remotely switch off
phones or disable their voice function, allowing travelers to just use
text messaging and email during quiet times.

"It is envisaged that airlines will turn the voice capability off, for
example on long-haul flight during the plane's night'," a spokesman
for communications joint venture OnAir said.

"Each airline is likely to develop different protocols for the use of
mobile devices, in much the same way that different protocols have
developed in different countries for the public use of mobile phones."

Airbus said it was pushing ahead with plans for trials of cell phones,
blackberries and other devices on planes next year, despite heightened
security following a suspected bomb plot in Britain and setbacks for
on-board communications in the United States.

OnAir is a joint venture with Airbus and information technology
systems provider Sita.

Air France KLM (AIRF.PA) is expected to lead the way when it takes
deliveries of planes trialling the service in 2007, while low-cost
carrier Ryanair (RYA.I) is also close to ringing up extra revenue from
cell phones.


However, other carriers said they might limit the service to text
messages or ban it altogether, amid fears it will put passengers off
traveling unless it can be policed properly.

British Airways (BAY.L) said it was interested in the technology but
was surveying its passengers to see what level of cell phone use would
be acceptable or "downright annoying."

Germany's Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) was also cautious, saying it had not
decided whether to allow cell phone use on planes yet.

"The issue is how you would get around the problem of disturbing other
passengers," a Lufthansa spokesman said.

An Air France spokesman said the first phase of its trials would only
involve data services such as text messages with a second phase
covering voice.

TAP Portugal and Britain's bmi (BMID.UL) also plan trial the

In a consultation paper on the subject in April, UK regulator Ofcom
warned: "The potential for increased levels of agitation from
passengers is a factor to be noted."

But asked about the social cost of mid-air cell phones, the outspoken
chief of low-cost carrier Ryanair (RYA.I) Michael O'Leary said: "Why
should I care if it is generating some money?

"People are in a confined space. People tend to not want to get into
long and involved cell phone discussions with people sitting around
them. I think it will be more people sending texts," he told

Advancements in airline communications have been slow to take off,
particularly in the U.S.

Boeing Co said last week it would shut its loss-making Connexion unit,
which allowed airlines to provide high-speed Internet service to
passengers. The satellite-based service, for which Boeing failed to
find a buyer, was too costly and few airlines signed on.

In June, Verizon Communications Inc. said it was cancelling its
on-board phone service by the end of the year.

(Additional reporting by James Regan in Frankfurt and Benoit Van
Overstraeten in Paris)

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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