Airlines could begin allowing in-flight cell phone calls as early as 2014, according to a statement released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The statement by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was released following the recent FAA policy shift to allow the use of personal electronic devices (PEDs) during all phases of flight. Recommendations from the Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC), which consulted with the FAA in allowing the expanded use of PEDs, included instructions for the agency to consult with the FCC to review its current regulations regarding the use of cell phones for voice communications.
“Today, we circulated a proposal to expand consumer access and choice for in-flight mobile broadband," said Wheeler. "Modern technologies can deliver mobile services in the air safely and reliably, and the time is right to review our outdated and restrictive rules. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, the FAA and the airline industry on this review of new mobile opportunities for consumers.”
The FAA is granting expanded use of PEDs to airlines on a case-by-case basis, requiring individual carriers to submit plans proving their avionics systems can withstand interference emitted from passenger's personal devices during all phases of flight.
However, the agency categorizes cell phones differently from other PEDs because they're designed to send out signals strong enough to be received at great distances.
Chris Lindquist, vice president of Panasonic Avionics, released a statement Friday regarding the FCC proposal. Lundquist called the commission's consideration of the proposal an "important step" for airlines' in-flight connectivity offerings.
“Consistent with continued air safety and airline operations, it would be good news for passengers to have the freedom to choose from available in-flight connectivity offerings. Whether they use onboard Wi-Fi or their own mobile devices, passengers should be able to remain connected," said Lundquist.
The FCC expects to vote next month on whether to make the new proposal available for public comments.