The US Federal Communications Commissions wants to lift the ban on using mobile phones in flight

Smartphone usage on planes criticised by aviation experts

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has put forward a proposal to allow airline passengers to use smartphones to make phone calls during flights.

Describing the existing ban on the usage of mobile phones during flights as outdated, Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said the body was proposing greater in-flight access to mobile broadband that would allow passengers use their smartphones and mobile phones freely when the aircraft is above 10,000 feet.

"The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," Mr Wheeler said, adding that modern technology could deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably.

However, the plan, still limiting the usage of mobile phones during landing and take-off, has been criticised by flight attendants and airline officials.

In fact, even if the FCC restrictions are lifted, the airlines would be in the position to decide whether they make mobile phone services available aboard, as the aircraft need to be equipped with small satellite base stations, picocells, enabling voice calls. The WiFi capabilities currently provided by some airliners only support Internet access.

Some aviation industry representatives said that allowing in-flight phone calls would not only cause nuisance but cut potentially put safety at risk.  

"There are bad ideas, and then there's this. Unlike the ability to use their personal electronics and WiFi from gate to gate, passengers don't want this,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Hudson Crossing. "The constant chatter of passengers on their mobile phones has the potential to further increase tension among already stressed-out passengers. It will be a catalyst for increased cases of 'air rage'," he said.

In October, the Federal Aviation Administration lifted restrictions on the use of most personal electronic devices during take-off and landing, but not mobile calls, which fall under the FCC.

The FAA based its decision to ease restrictions on electronic devices on recommendations from an industry advisory group, which said use of tablets, music players and other devices did not cause dangerous electronic interference with navigation systems on modern airliners.

However, passengers are still required to switch their devices into airplane mode. The same advisory group also recommended the FCC to review restrictions on phone calls.

The current move came 16 days after Mr Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the mobile phone industry, took over the post of FCC chairman. The proposal was greeted enthusiastically by the Telecommunications Industry Association.

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