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FCC to consider reversing ban on cell calls on planes

4:43 PM, Nov 21, 2013   |    comments
A passenger checks.3 her cell phone before a flight, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, in Boston. The Federal Aviation Administration issued new guidelines Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, under which passengers will be able to use devices to read, work, play games, watch movies and listen to music, from the time they board to the time they leave the plane. Now, the FCC is considering lifting its ban on making calls. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) ORG XMIT: MAMS101 (Photo: Matt Slocum AP)
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The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday it will review its ban against cell-phone calls aboard airliners.

The FCC has banned in-flight calls since 1991 because of concerns that calls would jam ground-based communications systems. The commission considered relaxing its ban in 2004, but decided against a change after a flood of opposition.

In revealing its agenda for the Dec. 12 meeting, the FCC announced that it would consider changing its rules to allow airline passengers access to mobile wireless services.

"Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. "I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA, and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers."

Capt. Patrick Smith, a 20-year pilot who writes the blog askthepilot.com, said cell calls wouldn't be allowed if safety issues remained, so it's just a social question. He worries that allowing calls could pit passenger against passenger in arguing about how noisy the cabin could be.

"Just imagine 250 passengers all making calls at once," Smith said. "I shudder to imagine how awful that would be."

Passengers including frequent business travelers have long opposed allowing calls because of the noise from listening to other calls.

But the Federal Aviation Administration recently allowed passengers to use their gadgets such as games and e-readers while taking off and landing, after reversing a ban on electronics when the plane is less than 10,000 feet in the air.

That change spurred attention to allowing calls.

"I'm not surprised we're moving in this direction," said Smith, who suggested that perhaps sections of a plane could be mapped out for cell phone use. Completely overturning the ban "is an invitation to disaster."


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