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Mobile phones allowed in European skies

Trials with British Midland and Air Portugal

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British Midland and TAP Air Portugal will permit passengers to use their mobile phones in the air next year, the two European airlines said this week.

Both companies will use base-station technology developed by OnAir, the Airbus-backed rival to Boeing's Connexion. OnAir uses pico-cell base-stations from Siemens, coupled with software from TriaGnoSys. The kit will be installed in 2006 with a view to commencing a trial service late in the year.

Initially, only a couple of aircraft will be equipped with the system. TAP will use OnAir on its single-aisle Airbus 321, and BMI on the Airbus 320. The target market for BMI will include business and leisure travellers to its destinations in Europe out of London's Heathrow, including Manchester, Belfast Edinburgh, Paris and Amsterdam. Travellers can use all GSM and GPRS handsets, including Blackberry devices.

However, there are a couple of restrictions. Passengers can use their phones only from 10,000ft - they will still not be able to use wireless devices during take off and landing. Charges have yet to be determined, but rates will be in line with current international roaming charges, OnAir said. ®

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