years of debate over the use of cellphones aboard airplanes in flight, the
moment of truth has very nearly arrived. Emirates, the Dubai-based airline,
installed satellite-based technology that allows voice calls and text messaging
on one of its Boeing 777's late last year and expects to begin offering the
service to passengers on an international route yet to be announced early
February, as reported by the New York Times.
The service has already obtained approval from air safety and telecommunications
regulators in 25 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, over about 30
routes that Emirates flies. The carrier expects to outfit its entire fleet with
the technology within a couple of years.
Half a dozen other airlines, including Air France-KLM, Ryanair and Qantas,
are expected to offer similar service in Europe and Australia later this year.
Travelers in North America will await the outcome of reviews by the Federal
Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to David Poltorak, president of AeroMobile, a British company
providing the cellular technology to Emirates and Qantas, any GSM-standard phone
will work on the system if the passenger's mobile subscription includes
Voice calls - to be allowed only at altitudes above 3,000 meters (about 9,800
feet) to avoid potential interference with land-based communications systems -
will be billed at US$ 3 to US$ 3.50 a minute for outbound and inbound calls,
with AeroMobile, the airline and the passenger's mobile service provider each
taking a cut. SMS prices weren't announced yet and data services should follow
AeroMobile says the cost is in line with existing intercontinental roaming
charges of US$ 2 to US$ 6 a minute. Calls made from airplane seat-back phones
now cost US$ 4 to US$ 5 a minute.
Cheers ~ Arne