European aviation authorities say that mobile phones would improve security on commercial air flights without posing a safety risk to the passengers on-board.
The findings are included in a little-known report entitled "Certification Considerations for Cellular Telephone Systems in Civil Transport Aircraft," which was published late last year and was carried out for the European Commission and EuroControl, the body responsible for co-ordinating air traffic control regulations among EU member states.
The report said that on-board mobile communications would improve aircraft security, since they would facilitate communications between on-board sky marshals and security officials on the ground.
"Passengers would be permitted to use their cell phones only during the cruise phase of flight, as defined by the aircraft constructor, when authorised by the cabin crew," the report said.
The phone service would be provided by a small base station on the plane, which would then connect to terrestrial telephone services via satellite or radio links.
The report was prepared in consultation with the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics (RTCA), the US group which advises the US Federal Aviation Authority on the issue. The RTCA's SC-202 working group has been examining the issue from a US perspective.
The aviation authorities of each member state would have the final say on the issue in Europe, whereas the Federal Aviation Authority would make the decision in the US.
However EuroControl's report cautioned that although it is technically possible to operate mobile phones on planes, there are significant spectrum licensing and operational issues to be addressed.
It said that even if mobile phones are judged to be safe, there are other issues that would have to be addressed by airlines before phones could be used, noting that airlines would have to introduce guidelines for making and receiving calls.
"A likely provocation is the frequent ringing of cell phones or of calls being made with a raised voice that disturbs other passengers," it noted. "An aircraft is not like a train, where a passenger can move from one seat to another."
In mid-June Ericsson launched an in-flight base station, the RBS 2708, which functions like any other terrestrially-based mobile phone station and will allow passengers to place and receive calls when the plane is at cruising altitude. Likewise, Ireland-based Altobridge also makes in-flight GSM products, which have already been installed on the Boeing 777 and Gulfstream 550 aircraft.
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