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Calling on airplanes is still verboten by the FCC and FAA

In today's connected world we even have wireless internet when flying in the air.  However, in-flight cellular voice support has been strictly verboten from the air space for decades.

However, that final connectivity barrier is preparing to fall.  Boeing Comp. (BA) today announced that in addition to its 737 connectivity wiring, its popular 747-8 and 787 models will receive new wiring by the end of 2013, which will allow the aircraft's onboard systems to act as a mini-cell tower providing calling capabilities to fliers.

Boeing will also offer a kit to allow older 787s to be rewired to support calling and Wi-Fi by the end of 2012.

The company's arch-rival Airbus (a European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company N.V. (ETR:EAD) subsidiary) currently offers similar support for calling on its A330 model, which first entered passenger service in 1994.

The key thing to understand is that support does not equate to the service being enabled in flight.  Currently although the 737 and A330 support in-flight calling, only a handful of countries have authorized the service, and only a handful of airlines have enabled it.  Among the early adopters is Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic, a British airline company, who allowed in-flight calling during transatlantic flights aboard its fleet of A330s.

Boeing aircraft
Top to bottom: Boeing 747, 787, 777, and 737 [Image Source: Boeing]

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration -- the U.S. regulatory agency tasked with telling fliers on U.S. airlines what they can and cannot do -- has long banned in-flight calling, citing interference concerns.  The U.S. Federal Communications Commission -- the U.S. regulatory agency tasked with regulating wireless communications -- has also prohibited in-flight calling multiple times.  Both agencies have shown no signs of easing that restriction of late.  

Currently the key battle going on within the FAA is whether or not to allow e-readers and tablets during takeoff.  The FAA has allowed pilots to use the devices in the cockpit, however, the issue of passenger usage during takeoff is still being debated.  Industry experts say their testing shows no risk, the FAA says it's not so sure.

With that issue monopolizing FAA regulators' time and attention, it is unclear whether the issue of in-flight calling will even receive serious consideration in the next couple years.  Fliers can at lesat look forward to using the feature, though, when they visit other nations with less government red tape (like Britain).

Source: Boeing





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