Ofcom approves use of mobiles on British planes within European airspace
The use of mobiles phones on planes flying in European airspace has been approved by Ofcom.
It will now allow UK airlines to install small mobile phone base stations in their aircraft.
These stations will connect mobile phones on board to lines on the ground via a satellite link.
For a number of years airlines have offered customers the use of phones built into the aircraft.
Mobile phones, however, have been prohibited as there have been concerns that their signals could interfere with aircraft systems.
However, because of increased interest from airlines wanting to offer passengers the opportunity to use mobile phones on board, the regulator started a consultation in October 2007.
As the proposals have been developed jointly with other EU countries, they will apply throughout European airspace.
Mobiles will still need to be switched off during take-off and landing, but once a plane is above an altitude of 3,000m passengers could soon be allowed to send text messages and make phone calls.
Ofcom said it would keep an eye out for evidence of "excessive charges” made by airlines for this service.
However, airlines that want to offer the services must still satisfy other regulators, which could take some time.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) told Computeractive that it needed to approve any hardware installed in aircraft to ensure that it did not interfere with other flight systems.
The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said that airlines would need to develop operating procedures to ensure cabin crew were trained in the proper use of the systems and in the announcements they made regarding them.
Both organisations also said they had not seen evidence of any UK-registered airlines looking to implement this technology.
However, Emirates Airlines has jumped on board. It has put technology in place to allow its passengers to make calls and send texts with their mobile phones.
The Dubai-based airline has fitted its Airbus A340 aircraft with a system called Aeromobile, which it claims stops mobile phones from interfering with a the plane's electronics.
Bjorn-Taale Sandberg, chief executive of Aeromobile, said that any safety concerns about the service had been answered.
"We have gone to considerable lengths to ensure that all safety and regulatory issues have been fully addressed, so we are pleased that Emirates has been able to join us in being first past the post in offering a full voice call service," he said.
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