The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

Local News

November 24, 2013

In-flight cell phone rule changes being considered

WASHINGTON — Rules against making cellphone calls during airline flights are “outdated,” and it’s time to change them, federal regulators said Thursday, drawing immediate howls of protest from flight attendants, airline officials and others.

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said in a statement that the commission was proposing greater in-flight access to mobile broadband. The proposal will be considered at the commission’s Dec. 12 meeting.

“The time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules,” Wheeler said, adding that modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably.

The proposal would also allow passengers to use their smartphones to send email, text and download data. The proposal would apply to flights when they are over 10,000 feet in altitude, but not during takeoffs and landings.

The move came just 16 days after Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cellular telephone industry, took over the post of FCC chairman. The proposal to ease cellphone restrictions was greeted enthusiastically by the Telecommunications Industry Association and the Consumer Electronics Association.

Grant Seiffert, president of the telecommunications trade group, said his members see airline passengers as a new market opportunity.

But the electronics association acknowledged, “Engaging in phone conversations in flight may prove technically feasible, but many may find it socially undesirable.” The association said it would be willing to work with the airline industry on promoting telephone etiquette on planes.

Reaction from the airline industry and labor unions was skeptical. Flight attendants and others have worried that a plane full of chattering passengers could lead to arguments and undermine safety.

“Passengers overwhelmingly reject cellphone use in the aircraft cabin. The FCC should not proceed with this proposal,” the Association of Flight Attendants said in a statement in response to the FCC chairman’s comments.

“In far too many operational scenarios, passengers making phone calls could extend beyond a mere nuisance, creating negative effects on aviation safety and security that are great and far too risky,” the flight attendants group said.

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