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Kiss goodbye to quiet skies: Now FCC ready to OK in-flight cellphone use

Reviewing 'outdated and restrictive rules' that keep us sane on flights

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The US Federal Communications Commission has indicated that it plans to relax the rules about cellphone use in flights, meaning everyone's going to get an earful in the future.

"Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement on Thursday. "Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers."

The move comes less than a month after the Federal Aviation Authority announced it was relaxing the rules on the use of electronics on flights to allow them to be used throughout a flight so long as the plane is flying at over 10,000 feet. The decision was welcomes by the airlines and Delta and Jet Blue have already relaxed their policies.

Last week the European Aviation Safety Agency followed suit, announced that it too would be relaxing the rules on the use of gadgets before and during flights, although it did draw the line at having laptops in operation during takeoff and landing.

Meanwhile, Gogo has confirmed that it has an inflight calling system ready to go, which will allow people to use their everyday cellphones to make calls in the air. The company has iOS and Android apps that divert calls via the aircraft's Wi-Fi system and pings them down to ground stations - and you know there's a lot of people eager to make that "I'm on the plane!" call.

Not everyone is so keen on the idea of having someone making calls during a flight. Most polling suggests a narrow majority of travelers would like some peace and quiet in the air, and the staff who look after us while aloft aren't keen either.

"The FCC should not proceed with this proposal," said the Association of Flight Attendants in a statement. "Flight Attendants, as first responders and the last line of defense in our nation's aviation system, understand the importance of maintaining a calm cabin environment. Any situation that is loud, divisive, and possibly disruptive is not only unwelcome but also unsafe."

"In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky. Besides potential passenger conflicts, Flight Attendants also are concerned that in emergencies, cell phone use would drown out announcements and distract from life-saving instructions from the crew." ®

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