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Goodbye airplane mode? Some countries could allow phone calls during flights


Airline passengers flying in the European Union will soon bid adieu to airplane mode and could even be able to make phone calls from the sky. 

The European Commission ruled in late November to allow airlines to provide the latest 5G technology on planes, alongside previous mobile technology generations.

“Since 2008, the Commission’s implementing decision has reserved certain frequencies for mobile communications on planes, allowing airlines to provide messaging, phone calls and data services to passengers flying in the EU. This update of the commission implementing decision on mobile communications on-board aircraft paves the way for the widespread deployment of 5G services,” it said in a release. 

The executive of the European Union said mobile phones could be used to the “maximum of their capacity and features.” 

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European Union flags flutter outside EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 28, 2022.
(Reuters/Yves Herman//File Photo)

“5G will enable innovative services for people and growth opportunities for European companies. The sky is no longer a limit when it comes to possibilities offered by super-fast, high-capacity connectivity,” Thierry Breton, commissioner for the Internal Market, said.

The release said the deployment of 5G services would be provided within the cabin of an equipped aircraft using special network equipment – the so-called “pico-cell” – to connect the users and route calls, texts and data, typically via a satellite network, between the airplane and the ground-based mobile network.

The deadline for member states to make 5G technology available on aircraft is June 30, 2023.

The details of how this would be implemented remain unclear.

While the previous service has been reportedly slow, according to the BBC, the new system would take advantage of faster download speeds provided by 5G.

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton speaks at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 19, 2022.

European Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton speaks at a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, Sept. 19, 2022.
(Reuters/Yves Herman)

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Dai Whittingham, chief executive of the U.K. Flight Safety Committee, told the outlet that steps would be taken to ensure that whatever is done will be done safely. 

“There is much less prospect of interference,” he said, “We have a different set of frequencies for 5G, and there are lower power settings than those that have been allowed in the U.S.”

Airbus A320 of EasyJet at Vaclav Havel airport, in Prague, Czech Republic, July 1, 2015.

Airbus A320 of EasyJet at Vaclav Havel airport, in Prague, Czech Republic, July 1, 2015.
(iStock)

In addition, the European Commission also amended an implementing decision on 5G frequency bands, which makes the bands available for Wi-Fi in road transport,

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In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration will reportedly continue to regulate the use of airplane mode for passengers, the agency told USA Today.

Fears of 5G antennas on the ground interfering with aircraft equipment led to flight cancellations early this year.



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