Mobile phones soon to be allowed on aircraft

Hiya, I'm on the plane

Mobile phones will soon be heard on commercial aircraft, subject to regulatory approval. UK communications regulator Ofcom published a proposal (pdf) today that would license the right for passengers to make calls above an altitude of 3,000 metres.

However, Ofcom points out that its remit is limited to the regulation of spectrum and electronic communications services. Safety must be assured before phones are allowed to ring in the air – and safety is the responsibility of other regulators. These are the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and, in the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority.

Ofcom's main issue in spectrum management is that Mobile Communications on Aircraft (MCA) systems "should not generate any harmful interference to terrestrial networks". It notes a European standard that should reduce the risk. That standard states that the absolute minimum height above ground for any transmission from the system in operation shall be 3,000 metres.

Aircraft will need to be fitted with onboard networks for passengers' phones to operate and Ofcom believes the necessary equipment should be licensed rather than licence-exempt, "given the uncertainty surrounding the performance of these systems in operation and the substantial risks to terrestrial networks if they were the victims of interference".

Ofcom said it does not currently envisage any additional fees being charged for the use of the spectrum as a result of it being licensed. It adds that a move to a deregulated environment could be taken in the future if the risk of interference is proved negligible.

Onboard networks will be allocated mobile country codes and mobile network codes, one for each service provider, to give connectivity to passengers.

Ofcom acknowledged consumer concerns "about the potential for discomfort and agitation among passengers as a result of others using mobile phones". But this is the responsibility of the Civil Aviation Authority, it said.

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