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US Congress to vote on in-flight mobile ban

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US lawmakers could ground moves to permit in-flight mobile phone calls. New laws to permanently silence mid-air yammering will go forward to a vote in the House of Representatives.

The Halting Airplane Noise to Give Us Peace Act (HANG UP Act) was approved by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee yesterday. The Act would permanently enshrine the Federal Aviation Authority's current restrictions on in-flight calls.

The proposed legislation doen't make safety claims against mobile phones on planes. Rather, it suggests that a free for all in-flight voice usage would simply be annoying.

Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio, the HANG UP Act's sponsor, said: "With airline customer satisfaction at an all time low, this is not the time to consider making airplane travel even more torturous. Polls show the public overwhelmingly doesn't want to be subjected to people talking on their cell phones on increasingly over-packed airplanes."

HANG UP would allow text messaging and email in the air. But the laws are likely to attract powerful opposition from airlines, who see charging for voice access to new aeroplane picocells as a tasty potential revenue stream.

A permanent ban would set the US against UK and European regulations, which have recently been relaxed in favour of in-flight calling. In April the European Commission backed the idea, and earlier this week Ofcom said it would licence airlines to operate the necessary gear.

In the ruling, UK watchdogs said its consultation had "raised concerns about passenger welfare and the potential for discomfort, anti-social behaviour and 'air rage' on board". Ofcom washed its hands of such concerns however, saying that "at an operational level, such considerations fall to the airlines".

European carriers who implement in-flight calling systems would likely be forced to switch them off during transatlantic flights if HANG UP becomes law. ®

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