Step closer to in-flight mobiles

22 Sep 2005 by business traveller

Shrill ring tones and loud chatter could be coming to an aircraft cabin near you from next year following initiatives by two European airlines to enable mobile phone use in-flight.

If Bmi and TAP Portugal go ahead with plans announced this week, mobile phones and GPRS-enabled devices such as the Blackberry, could be used by passengers travelling with both carriers from the end of next year. Both are partnering with technology provider OnAir, which is working with Airbus and Siemens to develop the technology.

The in-flight service, which is yet to receive regulatory approval, will begin initially as a test phase, available only on certain routes.

Bmi chief executive Nigel Turner stressed that this is not just to pilot the technology but also to evaluate the "social issues" surrounding mobile phone use in-flight. But he added: "Our research tells us that our premium passengers have two key concerns. These are getting quickly through the airport and the ability to carry on working during their journey."

The debate over the use of mobile phones on aircraft is raging in the US where authorities are considering removing a 14-year ban. While business travellers are broadly in support of use of mobile phones in-flight, the organisation representing flight attendants says its members are concerned that use of phones in-flight could spark "air rage" incidents and also pose a security threat.

Report by Ginny McGrath

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